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.

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The White House, for its part, also quickly labeled the compromise a success. It pointed to areas of broad discretion for President Bush in implementing the legislation, and, most important, saying that the deal would allow a key CIA interrogation program for suspected terrorists to go forward.

In a conference call with reporters soon after the compromise was reached, Bush's National Security Advisor, Stephen Hadley, hailed the deal as an example of "all Republicans coming together" to promote the national interest — a clear indication of the political pressure the White House and G.O.P. senators were under to reach agreement and prevent a widening rift over the issue inside the party.

Hadley said the legislation will enumerate "grave breaches" of the Geneva Conventions which, if committed, could expose U.S. officials to criminal prosecution. The list includes acts such as rape, murder and intentional infliction of bodily harm. For less-than-grave breaches, however, President Bush would be given authority to interpret the Geneva Conventions provisions through an executive order. Defendants and their lawyers will not be given access to classified material in military tribunals, and prosecutors will enjoy wide latitude, according to Hadley, in the use of hearsay evidence, with burden on the accused to show that such evidence is either unreliable on irrelevant before it could be excluded.

For all the talk of a grand compromise, the deal threatens continued limbo to the vast majority of roughly 450 prisoners currently at Guantanamo. Many of them have "habeas corpus" cases pending before US federal courts — cases filed after a 2004 Supreme Court decision that allowed them to bring cases forcing the U.S. government to either criminally charge or release them.

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