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Congress OKs Harsh Treatment Ban

President Bush is expected to sign a voluminous defense bill that requires the humane treatment of foreign terrorism suspects and rebukes some of his wartime policies.

On a voice vote, the Senate late Wednesday approved the bill setting Pentagon policy and directing Bush to send lawmakers quarterly reports on Iraq, sending it to the president's desk for his signature. The House passed the legislation Monday.

The Bush administration initially threatened to veto any bill limiting how the United States detains, interrogates or prosecutes terror suspects.

Bush reluctantly endorsed the ban on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of foreign detainees last week in the face of mounting pressure from the Republican-controlled Congress and U.S. allies.

The chief sponsor, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., had the votes in both the House and Senate to override a veto despite early lobbying against the ban by Vice President Dick Cheney.

"It puts in law the policy of America on these issues," Sen. John Warner, R-Va., and the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said. "It also provides what I regard as a fair set of standards for our men and women in uniform."

But Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., called the ban unnecessary because U.S. law already prohibits torture.

"Frankly, I'm not sure whether the administration agreed to this because they felt they had no choice or because they were happy with it," Sessions said.

The ban was part of a broader package of provisions that seek to standardize interrogation techniques and heal a U.S. image besmirched by the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal in Iraq and allegations of prisoner abuse at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The detainee issue was the most controversial provision in a measure that expressed a desire by Congress to increase its oversight of the war in Iraq and the campaign against terrorism.

In another such attempt, the measure includes language directing the president to submit quarterly reports to Congress on U.S. policy and military operations in Iraq.

Underscoring congressional impatience with the pace of progress in Iraq, the bill also states that 2006 should see significant moves toward full Iraqi sovereignty, with Iraqi security forces taking the lead to help permit the phased withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. And, it says, Congress believes U.S. forces should not be in Iraq longer than necessary.

The House approved the bill on Monday.

The detainee provisions also were included in a separate $453 billion defense spending bill. On Wednesday, the Senate signed off on that measure, which includes $50 billion more for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but only after stripping out a provision that would have allowed oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Because of the change, the House needs to approve the final version of the spending measure before it goes to the president for his signature.

McCain's provisions prohibit "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" of anyone in U.S. government custody anywhere in the world. They also require that service members follow procedures in the Army Field Manual during interrogations of prisoners.

Cheney had lobbied to exempt CIA interrogators from the ban's requirements. Instead, the final bill gives civilian interrogators accused of violating the standards the same rights military interrogators have — they can defend themselves by arguing that a reasonable person could have concluded they were following a lawful order.

In addition, the measure allows military panels determining whether to hold Guantanamo detainees indefinitely to consider information gained from coercive interrogation techniques.

It would also narrow a 2004 Supreme Court ruling that gave Guantanamo detainees the right to fight the legality of their detentions in any federal court. Instead, the bill limits their ability to appeal their detention status and punishments to a federal appeals court in Washington.