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Hints of Compromise Heard on US Prisoner Treatment Dispute


Both the White House and key members of the U.S. Congress are hinting at compromise on the complex issue of how best to try and treat terror suspects. The controversy dominated debate on all the TV Sunday news interview programs.

The rhetoric on the issue has been growing hotter in recent days. But on Sunday, the first few hints of compromise emerged.

White House National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, appearing on several news programs, defended the administration's tough stand to interrogations and trials of terror suspects. But he also indicated the Bush administration wants to work with those in Congress who advocate a different approach.

On ABC's This Week program, he talked about the need to keep a CIA interrogation program operating, while at the same time meeting congressional concerns that international norms on the treatment of prisoners are met. He said finding a meeting of the minds will be difficult, but it can be done.

"We need to find a way through that obstacle course, and I think we can," said Stephen Hadley.

The dispute with Congress came to a head on Thursday, when a small, but highly influential group of majority Republicans broke with the White House, and pushed its own version of legislation on terror suspects through the Senate Armed Services Committee with support from minority Democrats.

These Senators say the United States should apply Geneva Convention standards to detainees, that certain forms of interrogation should be banned, and that the suspects should have the right to see all evidence used against them at trial - even if it is considered classified.

Senator John McCain - a former Vietnam War-era prisoner of war - says the United States must set an ethical example for others. He was also interviewed on ABC.

"We should be very aware, if we engage in these activities, which are then condemned by all, and violate the standards by which we have behaved for the last 50 years, the world will condemn us, and we will lose the high ground," said Senator McCain.

McCain said there is a concern that, if the United States uses tough interrogation techniques with its prisoners, and denies them certain rights at trial, other countries will take that as license to do what they want with captured Americans.

Senator Lindsey Graham - another one of the Republicans challenging the White House on this issue - took that argument further during an appearance on the CBS program, Face the Nation. Graham asked what would happen, if an American agent were captured in Iran, put on trial, and never permitted to see the evidence against him.

"We would go nuts! We would say that secret trial violates the Geneva Convention standards for trying people," said Senator Graham.

The White House says giving classified evidence to a terror suspect could endanger American lives. But on CNN's Late Edition, National Security Advisor Hadley said steps would be taken under the president's proposal to ensure trials are fair.

"In order for classified evidence to be used, without showing it to the defendant, the head of the military tribunal must make a determination that it would not deprive the defendant of a fair trial,' he said. "The information must be provided to his attorney, so the attorney will have access to the classified evidence. And, where at all possible, the accused will have a declassified summary of that information."

The Supreme Court has ruled that terror detainees are covered by the Geneva Conventions on the humane treatment of prisoners. The White House insists the Geneva code was written long before the current war on terror, and clarifications are needed to apply it in accordance with U.S. law. Critics say some clarification may be warranted, but say they are concerned the administration wants to interpret the Geneva Conventions to suit its own needs.

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