WASHINGTON – President Bush and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., agreed to language Thursday on a bill to ban U.S. interrogators from using "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" of detainees in the War on Terror.
"We reached this agreement and now we can move forward and the whole world can know as we know that the United States does not permit cruel and inhuman treatment," McCain said after an Oval Office meeting with the president and Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
"We've sent a message to the world that the United States is not like the terrorists," McCain said. "We have no grief for them, but what we are is a nation that upholds values and standards of behavior and treatment of all people, no matter how evil or bad they are. And I think this will help us enormously in winning the war for the hearts and minds of people throughout the world in the War on Terror."
Bush made clear that the language is not about banning torture. That is something the United States already prohibits.
"This government does not torture," he said. "We adhere to the International Convention of Torture, whether it be here at home or abroad."
Bush also thanked McCain, who spent more than five years in a POW camp in Vietnam where he was frequently tortured, for being a leader who upholds American values.
Outside the White House, McCain and Warner said they were confident the language agreed to by the president for the defense authorization bill is a done deal and that loose ends will be tied up in the next 24 hours.
"I'm absolutely confident, Senator, that this McCain legislation, which is landmark legislation very much needed for our nation, will become finalized by our president," Warner said.
The Senate included McCain's provisions in two defense bills, including a must-pass $453 billion spending bill that provides $50 billion for the Iraq war. But the House omitted them from their versions and the bills have stalled.
Still, the language proposed by McCain has received overwhelming support in Congress. Late Wednesday, the House voted 308-122 for a non-binding resolution in support of the Senate-passed ban.
For months the White House has stated concerns that the McCain language goes too far. Administration officials cited doomsday scenarios where a detainee may have information that is critical to the safety of the United States and interrogators may need greater latitude to get prisoners to speak.
The administration was seeking language in the bill that would offer some protection from prosecution for CIA interrogators accused of violating McCain's provision.
"The debate has never really been about torture. There's a domestic law on the books prohibiting torture and we have an international prohibition against torture and the president says as a matter of policy, we don't engage in torture," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told FOX News.
"The debate has been about, what does it mean to deal in cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment? In some countries, there's stuff on the books to say you can't even insult somebody.
So, we want to simply insure that the American government has the tools necessary to question dangerous terrorists in order to gather information that may protect America from another attack," Gonzales said.
Supporters of the provisions say the extra language is needed to clarify current anti-torture laws in light of abuses at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and allegations of misconduct by U.S. troops at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. McCain said the deal addresses "legitimate concerns raised regarding the rights of interrogators."
The language mimics the military code by saying it will provide CIA and other interrogators with legal counsel and certain protections when they followed orders that a reasonable person would be expected to carry out. Those orders are not to contradict principles agreed to under the Nuremberg Principles developed in 1950, McCain said.
The language also includes a specific statement that those who violate the standards will not be afforded immunity from civil or criminal lawsuits.
"I think it's excellent, I think Sen. McCain was on the right track," Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., told FOX News after he heard about the deal.
But others question whether the U.S. government will have enough leeway to get the information that they need. It is still uncertain if the deal would limit measures such as stress techniques even in interrogations of high-value terrorists who may know about coming attacks.
Some analysts add that limiting "degrading" treatment could mean almost anything. For instance, a female interrogator questioning a Muslim prisoner could be perceived as degrading to the prisoner.
"If you apply it literally, it prohibits detention as such because it is absolutely degrading to be sitting, instead of running around and applying your trade of killing Americans, it is degrading to be sitting in a cell," said David Rivkin, an international law attorney and former Justice Department official.
A deal between the White House and McCain does not mean a deal between the Senate and House.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is said to still oppose the ban, though he and Warner were working on "refinements," which deal with legal protections for both military and civilian interrogators.
The protections would guard interrogators from a private suit or prosecution as long as they were following orders and "a reasonable person would think it was a lawful order." That is a standard that already applies to members of the military and would now be extended to civilian interrogators, including the CIA and any contractors.
Hunter said he would hold up completion of one of the two bills that includes the ban unless he got White House assurances that the new rules would still allow "the same high level of effective intelligence gathering" as under current procedures.
But officials said the ban would remain intact in the other bill, the final defense spending measure. After hearing Hunter's remarks, Warner said Thursday that the deal is coming.
"I have full confidence in the president's endorsement of Senator McCain's legislation," Warner said.
At one point, Bush threatened a veto if the ban were included in legislation sent to the president's desk, and Vice President Dick Cheney made an unusual personal appeal to Republican senators to give an exemption to the CIA.
But support in Congress has forced the White House to renegotiate, particularly as Congress tries to get the defense spending bills completed before lawmakers adjourn for the year.
FOX News' Jim Angle, Greg Kelly and Molly Hooper and The Associated Press contributed to this report.