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Bush Challenges Any Change to His Version of Interrogation Law


President Bush is facing stiff opposition from key members of his own party over rules governing the interrogation of suspected terrorists and the way terror trials can be conducted. Mr. Bush says proposed legislation in the U.S. Senate would shut down what he calls "crucial operations" by the Central Intelligence Agency.

President Bush says time is running out in a debate over U.S. interrogation methods that he says will define whether America can defend itself against terrorists.

The president is also pushing legislation that would allow military tribunals to try terror suspects. It would also allow classified evidence to be withheld from defendants. In addition, he wants coerced testimony to be allowed as evidence, and he wants U.S. interrogators to be protected from prosecution for using methods that might violate the Geneva Conventions, which govern the treatment of prisoners of war.

The White House says President Bush is not trying to amend the Geneva Convention. He wants it clarified. And Mr. Bush says that would make it stronger.

But some senior Republican leaders in the Senate disagree. They say those rules do not meet constitutional standards, outlined by the U.S. Supreme Court, and could endanger U.S. troops overseas, if other countries choose to reinterpret the Geneva Convention in their own way.

Taking questions from reporters in the White House Rose Garden, President Bush said legislation to clarify what is allowed under the Geneva Convention is central to maintaining CIA interrogations that he said are making America safer.

"The bottom line is simple. If Congress passes a law that does not clarify the rules, if they do not do that, the program is not going forward," he said.

CIA Chief Michael Hayden says he will shut down that program, if Congress does not protect his interrogators from possible prosecution for violating international treaty obligations.

Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war, says Hayden is trying to protect his reputation at the risk of America's reputation by asking for what the senator calls a virtually free hand to treat detainees as CIA agents see fit.

McCain and fellow Republican Senators John Warner and Lindsey Graham are leading the opposition to the president's plan for interrogating terror suspects. Those senators, along with Republican Susan Collins, joined Democrats in passing alternative legislation out of the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday.

While the president stopped short of threatening to veto that legislation, he said he will not sign anything that threatens the CIA program.

"I have one test for this legislation," he said. " I am going to ask one question as this legislation proceeds, and it is this: The intelligence community must be able to tell me that the bill Congress sends to my desk will allow this vital program to continue. That's what I'm gonna ask."

European Union foreign ministers are calling on the Bush administration to respect international law in its handling of terror suspects following the president's admission that terror suspects were being held in previously secret CIA prisons.