- The Washington Times - Friday, September 22, 2006

Dissident Senate Republicans and the White House reached a deal yesterday on legislation for how to handle the terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, allowing them to turn their attention to differences they might have with Democrats.

“The agreement that we’ve entered into gives the president the tools that he needs to continue to fight the war on terror and bring these evil people to justice,” said Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who was among the Republicans who objected to the original White House proposals because they wanted the detainees granted broader civil rights, especially in terms of guaranteeing a fair trial.

“I also believe that it’s consistent with the standards under the detainee treatment act, and there is no doubt that the integrity and letter and spirit of the Geneva Conventions have been preserved,” said Mr. McCain, a veteran who was held prisoner and tortured in northern Vietnam.

Mr. McCain announced his support for the deal at a Capitol press conference accompanied by fellow Republican defectors Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John W. Warner of Virginia.

President Bush said his only concern about the legislation was whether CIA interrogators could operate with enough freedom to glean information “to protect the American people.”

“I’m pleased to say that this agreement preserves the single most potent tool we have in protecting America and foiling terrorist attacks, and that is the CIA program to question the world’s most dangerous terrorists and to get their secrets,” he said during a campaign stop in Florida.

“The measure also creates military commissions that will bring these ruthless killers to justice,” he said. “In short, the agreement clears the way to do what the American people expect us to do: to capture terrorists, to detain terrorists, to question terrorists, and then to try them.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said the final deal must still be shared with Senate and House Republicans as well as Senate Democratic leaders. But he hopes to have the bill on the Senate floor early next week for a vote before Congress recesses at the end of this month for the November elections.

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, praised the deal for allowing the administration’s CIA interrogation program to go forward and quickly shifted the focus from Republican opposition to Democratic opposition.

“The Democrats have a choice,” he said. “They can either work with Republicans to preserve this crucial program or move to shut it down and continue to oppose every responsible effort to provide President Bush with the tools he needs to keep America safe.”

Democrats late yesterday remained silent on the deal, telling reporters that they would not comment until after studying the deal more closely.

But Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said Democrats are united behind bringing terrorists to justice “in a manner consistent with our laws, our values and our national security.”

“Hopefully, today’s press conference means that President Bush and the congressional Republican leadership have changed course and listened to numerous national security experts such as General Colin Powell,” he added.

Under the deal, Republicans said, defendants in the terror trials could see any information given to a jury but classified material could be redacted.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, California Republican, was critical of this White House concession.

“Classified information, we feel, should still be allowed to be used for a conviction,” he said, arguing that the Senate deal leaves the U.S. military two choices — either declassify the information or dismiss the case if no other evidence can be found.

Under the deal, hearsay evidence and coerced testimony can be used in some circumstances. The deal also prohibits “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions, described as acts such as torture, rape, or cruel and inhuman treatment. Mr. Bush can define anything short of “grave breaches.”

Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, called the compromise “a big win in the continuing war on terror.”

“The president was very clear that any legislation on terrorist detainees must ensure that our intelligence-gathering interrogation program can continue,” he said. “As the president said, this valuable program has saved innocent American lives and is preventing future terrorist attacks. The legislation we will soon consider on the Senate floor meets the president’s criteria.”

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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