- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2006

1:39 p.m.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed efforts to block President Bush’s plan to authorize harsh interrogations of terror suspects, even as the president lobbied personally for it today on Capitol Hill.

“I will resist any bill that does not enable this plan to go forward,” Mr. Bush told reporters at the White House after his closed-door meeting with House Republicans.

The latest sign of Republican division over White House security policy came today in a letter Mr. Powell sent to Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, one of three senators who disagree with the White House on the issue. Mr. Powell said Congress must not pass the president’s proposal to redefine U.S. compliance with the Geneva Conventions.

Mr. Bush’s plan would narrow the U.S. legal interpretation of the Geneva Conventions in a bid to allow tougher interrogations and shield U.S. personnel from being prosecuted for war crimes.

“The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism,” said Mr. Powell, who served under the president and is a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “To redefine Common Article 3 would add to those doubts. Furthermore, it would put our own troops at risk.”

Leaving the meeting on Capitol Hill, Mr. Bush said he would “continue to work with members of the Congress to get good legislation.”

“I reminded them that the most important job of government is to protect the homeland,” he told reporters after the session. Mr. Bush was accompanied by Vice President Dick Cheney and White House adviser Karl Rove.

In an effort to drum up support for its proposal, the White House released a second letter to lawmakers signed by the military’s top uniformed lawyers. Saying they wanted to “clarify” past testimony on Capitol Hill in which they opposed the administration’s plan, the service lawyers wrote that they “do not object” to sections of Mr. Bush’s proposal for the treatment of detainees and found the provisions “helpful.”

Two congressional aides said the military lawyers signed that letter after refusing to endorse an earlier one offered by the Pentagon’s general counsel, William Haynes, that expressed more forceful support for Mr. Bush’s plan.

The aides spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. Asked if Mr. Haynes had encouraged them to write the letter, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said, “Not that I’m aware of.”

Mr. Bush proposed the measure after the Supreme Court ruled in June that his existing court system established to prosecute terrorism suspects was illegal and violated the Geneva Conventions. The White House legislation would create military commissions to prosecute terror suspects as well as redefine acts that constitute war crimes.

At nearly the same time Mr. Bush met with House Republicans, Sen. John Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was asking his panel to finish an alternative to the White House plan to prosecute terror suspects and redefine acts that constitute war crimes.

The White House today said the alternate approach was unacceptable because it would force the CIA to end a program of using forceful interrogation methods with suspected terrorists.

“The president will not accept something that shuts the program down,” presidential spokesman Tony Snow said.

Mr. Warner said he thinks the administration proposal would lower the standard for the treatment of prisoners, potentially putting U.S. troops at risk should other countries retaliate.

Mr. McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, have joined Mr. Warner in opposing the president’s bill.

The administration didn’t allow such a direct challenge to pass without criticism. Yesterday, the White House arranged for a conference call with reporters so National Intelligence Director John S. Negroponte could argue that Mr. Warner’s proposal would undermine the nation’s ability to interrogate prisoners.

“If this draft legislation were passed in its present form, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency has told me that he did not believe that the [interrogation] program could go forward,” Mr. Negroponte said.

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