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Democrats push for more documents on interrogations

WASHINGTON—Congressional Democrats tried Wednesday to force the White House to release more internal documents about interrogation techniques, saying the 250 pages of memos made public Tuesday weren't related to abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The effort was defeated in the House of Representatives in a 270 to 149 vote but appeared headed for a victory in the Senate late Wednesday, after an effort to kill the measure was defeated 50 to 45, with three Republicans siding with the Democrats. A vote on the measure itself was pending.

The votes capped a day of often-bitter debate after Democrats accused the White House of trying to cover up its possible involvement in abuses at Abu Ghraib by releasing documents that only referred to Afghanistan and the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"Somewhere in the upper reaches of this administration, a process was set in motion that seeped forward until it produced this scandal," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. "We can't get to the bottom of this until there is a clear picture of what happened at the top."

Leahy, the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, last week sponsored a motion to subpoena 23 documents from the administration. Only three were released Tuesday—and two of those had already been posted on the Internet, Leahy said.

"It is a self-serving selection. ... Where is the remaining 95 percent of the documents that the Judiciary Committee is seeking?"

The most recent memo released Tuesday was dated April 16, 2003, shortly after the fall of Baghdad. It pertained to suspected terrorists held at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station. But lawmakers said they would like to see copies of reports by the International Committee for the Red Cross, which began documenting problems at the Iraq prisons in May 2003.

Among other documents they want:

_ An April 2003 memo from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to Gen. James T. Hill, head of Southern Command, on "Coercive interrogation techniques that can be used with approval of the Secretary of Defense."

_ A Sept. 10, 2003, memo to forces in Iraq on "Applicability of Army Field Manual 34-52 and sensory deprivation." The manual is the Army's guidelines on interrogation, in effect since 1987.

_ A Sept. 28, 2003, memo by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, head of coalition forces in Iraq, titled "Interrogation and Counter-Resistance Policy."

_ A January 2004 memo to Sanchez from his legal counsel on a "new plan to restrict access to Abu Ghraib."

Lawmakers also called for more information about military orders governing interrogation techniques, how those policies were developed, what was acceptable for the CIA and private contractors and who in the chain of command signed off on the policies and specific practices.

Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., the senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said he wants to know more about the "command atmosphere" that might have contributed to the abuses. A "wink and a nod can often send a tremendous message to those under a superior," he said.

The debate left nerves frayed in both houses. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, angrily denounced as "irresponsible" Leahy's demand that the Senate investigate what role the president might have had in contributing to abuses at Abu Ghraib.

"To try to imply that the president of the United States is responsible for these aberrational actions is irresponsible," Hatch said.

Another Republican, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, accused Democrats of undermining the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and said the outrage over the abuse is "designed to embarrass this administration politically."

But Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said it would be best for the administration to release the documents.

"The lesson they (the Bush administration) seem to forget is the information is going to come out one way or another and the best thing to do is to dump it all and get this over with," he said.

In the House, Democrats reminded Republicans about the many times Republicans investigated the Clinton administration, over policies in Bosnia and Kosovo, as well as his personal issues. "When Clinton was president, they loved this (oversight) role. It is not so much fun protecting your own guy in the White House," Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., said.


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.