Washington President Bush embraced Sen. John McCain's proposal to ban cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of terrorism suspects on Thursday, reversing months of opposition that included White House veto threats.
Bowing to pressure from the Republican-run Congress and abroad, the White House signed off on the proposal after a fight that pitted the president against members of his own party and threatened to further tarnish a U.S. image already soiled by the abuses at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.
Bush said the ban and accompanying interrogation standards will "make it clear to the world that this government does not torture and that we adhere to the international convention of torture, whether it be here at home or abroad."
After months of fierce negotiations, McCain, R.-Ariz., declared "a done deal" that he said shows that the United States "upholds values and standards of behavior and treatment of all people, no matter how evil or bad they are."
"We've sent a message to the world that the United States is not like the terrorists," the Arizona Republican said while appearing alongside the president in the Oval Office to announce the agreement.
The agreement still needs to be approved by Congress, whose GOP leaders hope to adjourn for the year in a few days.
The deal keeps McCain's original proposal, which was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate and endorsed by the House. One of the final stumbling blocks in negotiations was removed when language was added allowing CIA interrogators the same legal protections as those afforded to military interrogators.
Those rules say the accused can defend themselves by arguing it was reasonable for them to believe they were obeying a legal order. The government also would provide counsel for accused interrogators.
That language was McCain's own counterproposal to the White House's early calls, pushed by Vice President Dick Cheney, for an exemption for CIA interrogators. The administration had also sought some protection from prosecution for such agents accused of violating the standards.
Also added, officials said, was a statement explicitly rejecting immunity from civil or criminal lawsuits for those who violate the standards.
After the deal was announced, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he would block completion of one of the two defense bills that includes the ban unless he got White House assurances that "the same high level of effective intelligence gathering" would be achieved if the agreement became law.
Senator on board
But Sen. John Warner, R-Va., Hunter's counterpart in the Senate, was on board and appeared with Bush and McCain in the Oval Office.
"We're going to get there," Warner predicted.
House and Senate officials said the McCain provisions were likely to remain in the must-pass $453 billion defense spending bill that provides $50 billion for the Iraq war and that Congress planned to approve before adjourning for the year.
How they voted
The U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday, 308-122, to ban "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" of anyone in the custody of the U.S. government. U.S. Rep. Jim Ryun, R-Kan., voted against the measure, as did Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan. Ryun represents the 2nd District, including west Lawrence. U.S. Reps. Dennis Moore, D-Kan., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., voted for the measure. Moore represents the 3rd District, including east Lawrence.
The agreement was reached a day after the House - in bipartisan fashion - endorsed McCain's proposal. That vote put both GOP-controlled chambers behind McCain by veto-proof majorities, putting pressure on the White House to reach an agreement.