WASHINGTON – A ban on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of foreign terrorism suspects is likely to be included mostly, if not entirely, in a final defense bill, a key House Republican said Tuesday.
Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, who is leading negotiations to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions of the measure, said if the ban or another provision limiting interrogation techniques U.S. troops can use are changed, they won't be drastically watered down.
"Nobody wants to do that," Hunter, the House Armed Services Committee chairman, said in an interview. "I expect a good outcome for all parties."
The White House opposes the provisions and has threatened to veto any bill containing them. But President Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, has been negotiating with the chief sponsor, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to find a compromise that would satisfy Bush administration's concerns.
Hadley and McCain spoke again Tuesday, the same day Hunter met with Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the top Democrat on his committee, and their counterparts on the Senate Armed Services Committee — Sens. John Warner, R-Va., and Carl Levin, D-Mich. — to start sorting out differences between versions of the bill.
The most contentious area concerns McCain's provisions that would ban the "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment and punishment of foreigners in U.S. custody and require U.S. troops to follow interrogation procedures in the Army Field Manual.
Warner, Levin and Skelton back McCain's provisions, while Hunter has questioned the need for them. Hunter, R-Calf., has argued that the United States already has a law that prohibits torture.
But after the meeting Tuesday, Hunter said those provisions — and less-controversial legislation by Sen.Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on prosecuting detainees at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — likely will make it into the final bill "largely, if not completely, intact."
Hunter said he also believed a House provision would be included, saying that U.S. troops who are training Iraqi security forces should emphasize appropriate and humane treatment of prisoners.
Earlier Tuesday, Hunter told reporters that he expected the McCain and Graham provisions to be "very strongly manifested" in the final bill.
He is floating a proposal for House-Senate negotiators to consider that includes parts of the McCain and Graham provisions as well as the House provision on Iraqi training. But Hunter and aides declined to discuss exactly what the proposal contains and what it excludes. House GOP leaders, who are taking their cues from the White House, were not involved in crafting the proposal, raising doubts about whether it will be adopted.
Warner suggested he won't accept anything short of the detainee provisions as the Senate passed them without getting McCain's blessing. "I started with McCain, I will finish with McCain and as he said, there is no deal yet," Warner said in a statement.
McCain has said he won't back down from his demands that his provisions be kept intact. He has threatened to attach them to every bill the Senate passes until they become law.
The Senate, unlike the House, also included McCain's detainee provisions in its version of a separate bill that provides money for the military. But other lawmakers are in charge of completing that must-pass bill, and the detainee provisions are expected to be the last issues resolved.