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Senate Approves Measure Aimed at Preventing Prisoner Abuse

06 October 2005

The U.S. Senate has approved a measure that would impose standards on the military's treatment of detainees in the wake of prisoner abuse scandals at the Abu Ghraib detention center and elsewhere. The vote was 90 to Nine. But the White House has vowed to veto the measure.

The measure would ban the use of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment against anyone in custody of the Defense Department or in a Department of Defense facility, and would require that U.S. troops follow procedures in the Army Field Manual when they detain or interrogate suspects.

The bill is a response to last year's prisoner abuse scandal, which erupted with the publication of photographs showing U.S. military personnel humiliating and abusing detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican and a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, is chief sponsor of the measure, which is contained in an amendment to a defense spending bill.

"It is harming our image in the world, terribly," Mr. McCain says. "We have got to clarify that that is not what the United States is all about.  That is what makes us different, that is what makes us different from the enemy we are fighting."

Speaking on the Senate floor, Senator McCain read a letter of support from former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who also is a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon.  The letter said the world will note that America is making a clear statement with respect to the expected future behavior of our soldiers.  The letter continued, such a reaction will help deal with the terrible public diplomacy crisis created by Abu Ghraib.

Cosponsor of the bill, Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said confusion surrounding current interrogation rules necessitated the measure.

"We owe it to the hundreds of thousands of men and women who serve us every single day and risk their lives to set clear rules so they know how to treat detainees in custody," he says.

But at the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan signaled that President Bush would veto the defense bill if the amendment on prisoner interrogation was attached to it. 

"It would limit the president's abilities as commander in chief to effectively carry out the war on terrorism," Mr. McClellan says.

Senator McCain vowed to continue working with the White House to forge a compromise on the issue.

Earlier, the Senate approved by voice vote an amendment sponsored by Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, to clarify the legal status of enemy combatants held at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba detention facility and increase congressional oversight of their detention and release.

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