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Senate Passes Defense Bill - 2004-06-24

The U.S. Senate late Wednesday night unanimously (97-0) approved sweeping legislation authorizing $447 billion in defense programs. Senators also rejected a demand that the Bush administration release documents on the treatment of prisoners.

After hours of contentious debate, the Republican-controlled Senate defeated an Democrat-sponsored amendment calling on Attorney General John Ashcroft to turn over documents on the treatment of enemy combatants in the wake of the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq.

Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts was among the sponsors of the amendment. "We are talking about abuses that have been taking place in prisons where the United States has had the direct responsibility," he said. "And we are talking about policies that have permitted that kind of abuse to take place."

Republicans say the Democrats were playing politics. "It is purely a political ploy to try to score points in a presidential election year," said Senator John Cornyn of Texas.

Earlier, the Senate rejected another Democrat-sponsored amendment calling on the Bush administration to report on the number of American troops it expects to be serving in Iraq by the end of next year and on its plans to secure more international support.

Republicans argued administration officials are doing their best to keep Congress informed of its plans.

The overall bill authorizes defense programs for the next budget year, beginning October 1. Included are $25 billion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It increases the army's troop strength by up to 30,000, between the years 2005 and 2009, and includes pay raises for military personnel.

The House has already passed its version of the legislation and differences in the two measures will have to be reconciled before a final bill is sent to President Bush for his signature.

The legislation does not provide funding for the defense programs. A separate spending measure, which the Senate is expected to begin debating Thursday, does that. The House has passed its own version of that bill, Tuesday.