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Archive for Saturday, September 23, 2006

GOP upbeat on terror trial bill

September 23, 2006

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— House GOP leaders signaled Friday that they are satisfied with the main elements of a military trial bill negotiated Thursday by dissident Republican senators and White House officials, and predicted that Congress will pass the measure before adjourning next week.

"We're going to get this thing across the finish line," Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., told reporters less than 24 hours after giving the measure a much cooler reception.

The House response all but settles an intraparty squabble and puts congressional Democrats in a difficult spot six weeks before elections in which they hope to wrest many House and Senate seats from the GOP. Some of the Democrats' liberal constituents dislike the bill, viewing it as a green light for President Bush to resume a CIA policy of interrogating foreign terrorism suspects with harsh techniques that some critics consider torture. But to oppose the compromise, which Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has embraced, would subject them to charges of being soft on terrorism, several analysts said.

The compromise bill on rules for the trials, known as military "commissions," outlines the kinds of detainee mistreatment by CIA interrogators that would constitute crimes. It bars the administration from reinterpreting the Geneva Conventions but gives the president a dominant role in deciding which interrogation methods would be permitted.

Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, on Thursday raised concerns about the bill's prohibition against convicting defendants with classified information they are not allowed to see. On Friday, Hunter said he was satisfied because the suspects would not learn the identity of undercover officers who gathered the crucial evidence.

With Congress planning to adjourn by Sept. 30, last-minute snags could possibly complicate or even prevent the bill's passage. But top Democrats in both houses indicated they won't stand in the bill's path and risk being blamed for its demise.

Until the breakthrough was announced Thursday, Democrats had let Republicans fight among themselves as they backed McCain and Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and John Warner, R-Va., in their struggle with the White House. Now that McCain and his fellow dissidents have joined hands with Bush, it will be difficult to attack the deal, Democrats acknowledged.

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