Thursday, June 24, 2004

The Senate unanimously passed a bill reauthorizing defense programs yesterday that gives an overall endorsement of President Bush’s war on terror and protects such key administration priorities as missile defense.

The bill passed 97-0 late last night, but only after Republicans defeated an attempt by Democrats to subpoena still more memos from the administration regarding U.S. policy toward detainees in the war on terror.

Frustrated by the documents provided this week that showed the Bush administration following standards set by international agreements for the treatment of prisoners, Democratic senators sought more — and perhaps more revealing — documentation.

“The Senate Republicans are trying to stonewall the release of Justice Department memoranda on the torture of prisoners,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat. “The administration released a handful of documents yesterday, but the materials are far from complete.”

By a 50-46 vote, the Senate defeated the measure, which also would have declared all U.S. officials bound by anti-torture laws, ordered the Pentagon to report on interrogation techniques, and required a schedule for trying terror suspects being held in Cuba.

Republicans accused Democrats of political grandstanding and of trying to undermine the war on terrorism.

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said the release of additional documents containing techniques for gathering information from prisoners could “provide a road map to our enemies.”

He also said Democrats were trying to score political points with their subpoena.

“Where I come from, people want direct questions and straight answers, not Beltway games and political tricks,” he said. “People want the president and his officials to do everything necessary to win the war against terrorism and to do so in full compliance with the law.”

Mr. Kennedy, though, said it went beyond that.

“This is not a partisan issue,” Mr. Kennedy said. “It is a constitutional issue.”

It was just the latest victory for Republicans in a long series of votes, during which they preserved most of what Mr. Bush asked for in the bill.

Republicans, occasionally joined by some Democrats, turned back a series of attempts to cut missile defense. By yesterday, when the Senate voted for the third time in a week to preserve missile defense, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, said the votes were getting repetitive.

“The issues are settled,” he said.

The amendment by Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, to limit funding for missile defense until certain tests proved successful, failed on a 53-45 vote.

Mr. Kennedy also lost his bid to force the administration to provide an estimate of troop strength in Iraq for the next five years.

“The president needs to be honest with the American people about the future of our troop presence in Iraq. Shamefully, the Senate Republicans are protecting him from doing just that,” Mr. Kennedy said after his amendment failed, 50-48.

Republicans said there is no way the administration should be asked to predict something so unpredictable.

“Political developments in Iraq will drive security estimates, so we cannot determine now what our needs are going to be years in advance,” said Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

During the past month’s debate on the bill, the Senate also:

• Turned back an attempt to reduce the president’s tax-cut package for top income earners and use the money to pay for the effort in Iraq.

• Agreed to an amendment by Mr. Reed that would boost Army troop strength by 20,000 soldiers by 2005, and another amendment by Sen. Christopher Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, that restricts what roles civilian contractors may play in military operations.

• Defeated an effort to force the administration to develop a policy for news coverage of the return of remains of service members who die overseas.

Meanwhile yesterday, several House Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, called for a select committee to investigate prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, and for House panels to issue subpoenas for information.

She noted that committee chairmen issued more than 1,000 subpoenas during the Clinton administration “and it appeared that no matter was too small.”

• Charles Hurt contributed to this report.

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