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Bush Signs New Interrogation Bill as
Lawyers Vow to Fight It

New rules deny rights of detainees, but ban torture

FARAH STOCKMAN & CHARLIE SAVAGE / Boston Globe 18oct2006

[More on Bush]

 

FARAH STOCKMAN & CHARLIE SAVAGE / Boston Globe 18oct2006

WASHINGTON President Bush on Tuesday signed into law new rules on interrogating detainees and prosecuting suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, calling the measure "one of the most important pieces of legislation in the war on terror."

But as Bush and a group of key Republican senators hailed the compromise that led to the passage of the new rules last month, the American Civil Liberties Union called it "one of the worst civil liberties measures ever enacted in American history."

Groups of defense lawyers vowed to fight the new law in court, calling it "blatantly unconstitutional" because it denies detainees the right to challenge their detention in court.

The lawyers' vows assure that the battle over the treatment and prosecution of detainees which consumed Congress for much of September and sparked a brief Republican rebellion against the administration will continue in courtrooms in the coming years, almost certainly finding its way to the Supreme Court.

The law bans U.S. agents from inflicting severe physical or mental pain and using torture during interrogations. But it gives the White House wide latitude to define what constitutes torture and "cruel treatment" under the Geneva Conventions, and it effectively grants legal amnesty to White House officials who authorized harsh techniques in the past to protect CIA agents who have reportedly used mock drownings, sleep deprivation and hypothermia during interrogations.

The law also bars U.S. courts from hearing any civil or criminal cases regarding a detainee's treatment while in U.S. custody.

"This bill provides legal protections that ensure our military and intelligence personnel will not have to fear lawsuits filed by terrorists, simply for doing their jobs," Bush said, lauding the CIA interrogation program as a "vital tool" that has thwarted numerous attacks. "This program has been one of the most successful intelligence efforts in American history."

It is unclear whether the new law bans mock drownings and other such tactics. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a Republican and former Vietnam POW who spearheaded the effort to outlaw torture, said those tactics would be prohibited. But White House Press Secretary Tony Snow would not specify which methods would be allowed.

"The government will not tell you the precise questioning techniques, for the reasons that have been outlined many times before," he said. "You do not want to give those who are apprehended, or terrorists, the ability to plan in advance for techniques that might be used."

In an unusual move, the Bush administration broke with its practice of issuing "signing statements," which Bush has repeatedly used to assert an expansive view of his own powers as commander-in-chief, and to ignore statutory limits if he decides that violating a law is necessary to protect national security.

Snow had said this week that Bush would not need to issue a signing statement for this law because Congress "did a really good job" in drafting it. He joked that the White House wanted to "frustrate the media because everybody has been waiting for one."

In the coming weeks, Snow said, the White House will publish in the Federal Register a broad interpretation of what acts constitute torture under the Geneva Conventions.

source: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/national/289048_detain18.html 17oct2006

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