WASHINGTON – A House committee Wednesday voted to bar the Justice Department from issuing legal justifications for torture (search) as Congress continued to react to government memos that seemed to permit the practice.
The Senate, however, defeated 50-46 a measure that would have declared all U.S. officials bound by anti-torture laws and required Pentagon reports on interrogation techniques, the number of detainees denied POW status, Red Cross findings on U.S. military prisons and a schedule for trying terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"This was a shot across the bow," Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, a sponsor, said after it failed. "The votes tonight show patience is wearing thin with this White House's refusal to level with the American people."
Republican members of the Senate said the legislation was nothing more than a partisan move to embarrass President Bush.
The Republican-led House Appropriations Committee approved its provision by voice vote after sponsor Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., said the Justice Department has acted in "outlandish fashion" in the episode, which has involved detainees in Iraq and elsewhere.
The panel used another voice vote to approve nonbinding language by Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., aimed at getting the department to report on all documents it has written supporting practices that would violate the Geneva Convention or other treaties. The report would also have to state how much time the Justice Department spent preparing each document.
In a sign of the breadth of the congressional uproar over torture and the administration's condoning of the practice, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., released a recent letter he wrote to Justice officials seeking similar information.
Wolf, chairman of the subcommittee that controls the Justice Department's budget, asked department officials to investigate the Aug. 1, 2002, memo they sent to the White House that critics say helped lead to the mistreatment of Iraqis held at Abu Ghraib prison.
"The thought of the United States condoning torture is abhorrent," Wolf wrote.
The provisions were added to a $39.8 billion bill for the Justice, Commerce and State departments for 2005. The overall bill was approved by voice vote.
The Obey amendment forbids money in the bill from being used "to offer or provide legal assistance of any kind which would support or justify the use of torture by any official or contract employee of the United States government."
The Defense Department has launched several investigations into charges of prisoner abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. In addition, a CIA contractor has been indicted on charges of beating an Afghan prisoner who later died, and others are under investigation.
The Senate measure was an amendment to its $447 billion defense authorization bill and voted on late Wednesday night.