Coming Together on Torture

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Sen. John McCain, Sen. Lindsey Graham and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner hold a news conference at the U.S. Capitol September 21, 2006.

The just-announced deal between the White House and three Republican senators over rules to govern military tribunals and interrogation of so-called enemy combatants in the war on terror amounts to an ambiguous compromise in which all sides are claiming victory.

One part of the dispute arose several weeks ago when President Bush called on Congress to interpret the Geneva Conventions, offering legal guidance on what would and would not be permissible during CIA interrogations of terrorist suspects. The senators opposed the idea, arguing that to in effect amend the Geneva Conventions would be a mistake, in part because other nations might try to do the same as a possible justification for mistreating American prisoners in their custody.

The other part of the dispute emerged from a Supreme Court decision last summer in the case of a Guantanamo prisoner named Hamdan. The court ruled that the prisoner was entitled to additional due process rights at trial, a move that required Congress to define those rights in statute.

The three Republican senators who opposed a White House version of the bill — Senators John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Warner of Virginia — said the just-announced compromise with the White House met their fundamental requirements by first leaving the provisions of the Geneva Conventions untouched and second, by guaranteeing prisoners facing military tribunals basic rights and fairness. The Bush Administration had favored a watering down of some of those rights.

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