Friday, July 22, 2005

White House threatens veto on detainee policies


White House threatens veto on detainee policies

By Vicki Allen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Thursday threatened to veto a massive Senate bill for $442 billion in next year's defense programs if it moves to regulate the Pentagon's treatment of detainees or sets up a commission to investigate operations at Guantanamo Bay prison and elsewhere.

The Bush administration, under fire for the indefinite detention of enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and questions over whether its policies led to horrendous abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, put lawmakers on notice it did not want them legislating on the matter.

In a statement, the White House said such amendments would "interfere with the protection of Americans from terrorism by diverting resources from the war."

"If legislation is presented that would restrict the president's authority to protect Americans effectively from terrorist attack and bring terrorists to justice," the bill could be vetoed, the statement said.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, who endured torture as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, said after meeting at the Capitol with Vice President Dick Cheney that he still intended to offer amendments next week "on the standard of treatment of prisoners."

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was working on legislation defining the legal status of enemy combatants being held in Guantanamo, also said he would offer an amendment.

They were working with Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner of Virginia on amendments intended to prevent further abuses in the wake of the scandal over sexual abuse and mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison and harsh, degrading interrogations at Guantanamo.

Possible measures included barring the holding of "ghost" detainees whose names are not disclosed, codifying a ban against cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, and using the Army manual as a basis for all interrogations.

Democrats on Thursday said they would push an amendment to establish an independent national commission to investigate policies that led to abuses of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and elsewhere.

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the Armed Services Committee's top Democrat, said the commission on detainee abuses was needed because "the most serious scandal in recent military history needs an objective investigation."

Levin said the commission should be modeled on the bipartisan commission that probed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts said the Pentagon's own investigations into detainee abuses left "huge gaps. ... The military reviewing itself, that's not good enough."

Pentagon "talking points" against the special detainee commission circulating around the Capitol said the issue had been "thoroughly investigated" and "a new open-ended investigation" would add "nothing but political theater."

The talking points said reforms were under way, and the Pentagon "has the matter well in hand. The department and the services are doing everything possible to address this challenge."