WASHINGTON – A deal on the rules for questioning and trying suspected terrorists protects Americans and classified information while maintaining U.S. values, President Bush said Thursday.
"This agreement preserves the most — single most potent tool we have in protecting America and foiling terrorist attacks, and that is the CIA program to question the world's most dangerous terrorists and to get their secrets," the president said from Orlando, Fla.
"The measure also creates military commissions that will bring these ruthless killers to justice. In short, the agreement clears the way to do what the American people expect us to do: to capture terrorists, to detain terrorists, to question terrorists, and then to try them," Bush added.
After nearly a week of back-room negotiations, Senate Republican leaders and Bush administration officials announced late Thursday afternoon that they had created the framework in which CIA interrogators and military lawyers can do their job in bringing terrorists to justice.
"I'm pleased that we have agreement which meets three tests of our conference," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
"Number one, it protects Americans by ensuring that our high-value CIA program will be preserved. Number two, it guarantees that classified sources and methods will not be disclosed to the terrorist detainees. And, third, it ensures that our military can begin to try terrorists in our custody," said Frist, R-Tenn.
This deal "gives the president the tools that he needs to fight the War on Terror, and bring these people to justice," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was among the few Republican senators who had held out against Bush administration provisions for interrogating detainees.
McCain said the deal is consistent with the Detainee Treatment Act and preserves the integrity of the Geneva Conventions.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., another negotiator, said the deal allows for prosecution of terrorists without revealing the methods and techniques. It makes sure those methods for interrogation don't come back to haunt the United States.
"The good news about our deliberations is that we have a framework which will allow the CIA to go forward. We also addressed the issue of military commissions" that will maintain U.S. values while still providing for the prosecution of terrorists, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said. "The bill will provide rules for interrogators to detain, question and bring to justice terrorists. It is good news and a good day for the American people."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said he will be taking the language to Democratic leaders and Republican colleagues very soon. Sen. John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said the product of the compromise would then be brought to the floor, and sent over to the House for passage. Frist said he wanted to get the bill completed before lawmakers left Washington, D.C., next week to campaign ahead of the midterm election on Nov. 7.
While details of the deal were still being held close to the vest, Frist said the focus of the agreement related to classified intelligence information, evidence obtained through coercion and some lesser provisions which are still being hammered out.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said his chamber's work "is not over yet. I think we're very close. We're concerned most strongly with the utilization of classified information."
Prior to the announcement by senators, Hunter said he got word that senators had a "conceptual agreement on what they think would work well, particularly with respect to Geneva Convention Article 3."
The Geneva Conventions prescribe international standards for the treatment of prisoners taken in a war. The White House and Senate holdouts had argued over making sure the language was clear that torture would be barred.
One official said that under the agreement, the administration agreed to drop language that would have stated an existing ban on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment was enough to meet Geneva Convention obligations. Convention standards are much broader and include a prohibition on "outrages" against "personal dignity."
In turn, this official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said negotiators agreed to clarify what acts constitute a war crime. In revising the War Crimes Act, the bill would spell out "grave breaches" of Common Article 3, expressly prohibiting torture, biological experiments, murder, mutilation, maiming, rape and similar crimes but leaving other interrogation techniques unnamed.
CIA Director Michael Hayden told agency personnel that the new legislation would achieve the president's objective of allowing agents to conduct interrogations without fear of penalty.
"If this language becomes law, the Congress will have given us the clarity and the support that we need to move forward with a detention and interrogation program that allows us to continue to defend the homeland, attack Al Qaeda and protect American and allied lives," he said in a written message.
Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., told FOX News that the CIA had basically stopped interrogating suspected terrorists for fear of violating the law through the methods they used. Santorum said if the agreement allows for resumption of those interrogations, he would support it.
"I'm taking the president at his word that the CIA is comfortable with these parameters, and that they believe that they can get the information they need in a way that protects our CIA agents who are doing this questioning from any kind of legal problems down the road," Santorum said, adding that he wants agents to be able to go forward effectively "without fear of any kind of retribution."
The agreement also deals with the issue of evidence used in trials of suspected terrorists — stating when suspects and their lawyers would be permitted to see any classified evidence in the cases against them. Hunter said that is the biggest issue for House Republicans.
The House version, which resembles more closely the administration's original proposal, allows classified evidence to bring about a conviction even when that evidence is not disclosed to the alleged terrorists. The Senate bill had said that classified information shall not be disclosed, but then didn't provide for the classified evidence to be used if it were not.
Graham said in the end, negotiators had concluded that if someone is sentenced to a long prison term or death, his attorneys must be allowed to see the classified evidence against them. But the bill still provides protections for classified information to be used secretively in trials.
"We have created what I think is the most robust national security privilege in American law to protect the prosecutor's file from falling into the hands of the defendant, the defense attorney, in a way that could compromise national security," Graham said of the compromise.
Hunter said those provisions need to be reviewed in the House.
"So we are very concerned, on the House side, about protecting classified evidence, not revealing it to the alleged terrorists, not revealing the names or the identity of the agents to the terrorists or allowing the terrorists to see those agents, but allowing their lawyers, if they have the appropriate security clearances ... to be able to cross-examine American agents or to review classified evidence," he said during remarks made with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Bush said he hoped Congress would have a bill on his desk before lawmakers take their recess next week. A completed bill would help Republicans during their pre-election campaigning and enhance the president's image by showing his ability to achieve a major legislative imperative.
But the controversy that surrounded the standoff last week is likely to be used by the president's critics ahead of the election. Bush's former secretary of state, Colin Powell, dismayed the administration by siding with Warner, McCain and Graham against the president. Powell said Bush's plan would have formally changed the U.S. view of the Geneva Conventions on rules of warfare. He warned that such a change would cause the world "to doubt the moral basis" of the fight against terror and "put our own troops at risk."
Ready with a response, Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., a member of the House Judiciary Committee that passed legislation Wednesday approving a GOP version of the bill similar to the president's plan, said panel Democrats appeared more interested in helping candidates in tight races than working on a framework for trying terror detainees.
"The suggestion was made that we were making some of these changes to protect the president of the United States from charges of war crimes, or members of his administration, which is not only an absurd statement, but shows that, unfortunately, some on the other side of the aisle are missing the mark in what is truly important in this debate," Lungren said.
FOXNews.com's Sharon Kehnemui Liss and The Associated Press contributed to this report.