White House, Senate Republicans Reach Deal on Detainee Bill
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KWAME HOLMAN: Twenty-four hours later, the detainee deal reached between the Bush administration and leading Senate Republicans seemed to be holding. Arizona’s John McCain was one of three key senators who participated in the week-long negotiations.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: Let me just say, the agreement that we’ve entered into gives the president the tools that he needs to continue to fight the war on terror and bring these evil people to justice.
KWAME HOLMAN: Abiding by rules for detainee treatment under the Geneva Conventions also was a key priority of the Republican senators. They resisted the president’s efforts to redefine them. Under the deal, limits on the interrogation techniques would be laid out in a U.S. law known as the War Crimes Act.
President Bush said the proposal legislation will help save American lives.
GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: 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.
KWAME HOLMAN: The deal would allow for vigorous and extensive interrogations of detainees and would require the president to lay out and make public what is not acceptable during interrogations. The agreement also would prevent the prosecution of U.S. agents for past actions.
Representing the Bush administration in the negotiations was National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
STEPHEN HADLEY, National Security Adviser: We also addressed the issue of military commissions to get a legislative framework that would allow terrorists to be brought to justice in a way that was consistent with our values. And we also believe we have a way ahead to do that, as well. So what is emerging is a way to detain, question and bring to justice terrorists.
KWAME HOLMAN: One of the main concerns of the senators was the ability of detainees to receive fair trials and whether they would have access to evidence U.S. intelligence wished to keep secret. In a concession by the administration, detainees would be allowed to see most evidence against them.
South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), South Carolina: We need to be very clear that, in prosecuting the terrorists during a time of war, we do not have to reveal our sources and methods to protect us, our classified procedures.
But if the government decides to provide information to the jury that would result in a conviction, sending someone to jail for a long period of time or to the death chamber, an American trial must allow that person to know what the jury found them guilty of so they can confront the evidence.
Safeguarding classified evidence
KWAME HOLMAN: The legislation appeared to clear another major hurdle today, as the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Duncan Hunter, said it addressed a key concern: how classified evidence would be safeguarded in these military commissions.
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R-CA), House Armed Services Committee Chairman: The information that may, under the original Senate bill, surround the credibility of the agent -- that is, who he is, how he got the information, his background, all the things that you would be able to cross-examine an American police officer about as he sat on the witness stand -- that part of the information will be seen by the judge in a private setting, with no defendant around.
After the judge certifies that the key thrust of the evidence that this agent has, which may be the convicting evidence, is reliable, he will be the one who will know the identity of the American agent, who will be able to talk about the background, the circumstances by which he may have come up with the information that could be used to convict a terrorist. And the agent is never revealed to the defense attorney or to the accused terrorist, so his identity is protected.
KWAME HOLMAN: If the compromise stays on track, Congress could approve it and send it to the president to be signed before members begin their pre-election break at the end of next week.