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Congressman Demands Assurances from White House on Torture Issue


The agreement between President Bush and Republican Senator John McCain on language prohibiting torture may remove a major roadblock delaying congressional approval of key defense legislation. But a powerful House member is demanding more assurances from the White House that the deal won't harm U.S. personnel involved in intelligence gathering or overall efforts in the war on terrorism.

No sooner had President Bush and Senator McCain appeared at the White House to announce their deal, Congressman Duncan Hunter went before reporters to throw some cold water on the deal.

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee wants a written assurance from the White House that the agreement won't damage U.S. intelligence efforts.

"Unless they can assure us that this intelligence apparatus that we Americans have, that we employ, that we pay for with lots of money and with lots of American lives, that that apparatus continues to function effectively after this [defense] bill," said Mr. Hunter. "Now we have not received that yet, and I am not going to close the conference until we receive it."

He refers to the House-Senate conference report containing about $450 billion that neither chamber has approved, even as time in the congressional session runs short.

Mr. Hunter says the White House clarification must be in writing, and be based on consultation with the U.S. intelligence community. He says Senator John Warner, who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, agrees with him.

Before Thursday's agreement with Senator McCain, President Bush had stated publicly that the United States does not torture detainees.

However, his administration, principally through efforts by Vice President Dick Cheney, pressured Congress to avoid language that might limit U.S. flexibility in the war on terrorism, and place civilian U.S. interrogators in jeopardy.

Senator McCain's language was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate in November, and on Wednesday, the House endorsed it by a vote of 308 to 122.

Democratic Congressman Jack Murtha said no circumstance justifies the use of torture by the United States.

"The United States of America and the values we reflect abhor human rights violators and uphold human rights. No circumstance whatever justifies torture. No emergencies, no state of war, no level of political instability," said Mr. Murtha.

A key part of the compromise with Senator McCain would give government employees, including those from the CIA, additional protections to defend themselves against charges of violating interrogation rules.

Mr. McCain spoke about the compromise in his appearance with the president.

"We have sent a message to the world that the United States is not like the terrorists," said Mr. McCain. "We have no brief for them. But what we are is a nation that upholds values and standards of behavior and treatment of all people no matter how evil or bad they are. And I think this will help us enormously in winning the war for the hearts and minds of the people throughout the world in the war on terror."

However, Congressman Hunter told reporters late Thursday he wants the White House to, in his words, "dig deeper" to come up with firmer assurances the deal won't harm intelligence efforts.

Congressman Hunter says he remains optimistic all of this won't prevent the House from approving defense authorization and appropriations legislation, something President Bush clearly would want to avoid.

In addition to the prohibition on cruel, degrading or inhumane treatment, the McCain bill also requires that anyone involved in interrogating detainees follow standards in the U.S. Army field manual.

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