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Measure requiring more interrogation documents passes in Senate

WASHINGTON—Senate Democrats won a key vote on Wednesday to require the Bush administration to turn over documents related to the interrogations at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and report to Congress any changes to interrogation policies and any future abuses.

The unanimous vote came after a cliffhanger attempt to kill the amendment, which had been offered to the Defense Department spending bill. With the help of three Republicans and one independent, Democrats defeated, 50-45, a motion to table the measure. The Senate then approved the measure on a unanimous voice vote.

Republican senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Chuck Hagel of Kansas, and John McCain of Arizona, all voted with the Democrats. Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., voted to kill the amendment.

The Republicans joined in supporting the request after an earlier Democratic motion to require the White House to surrender all documents since President Bush took office related to interrogations, torture and the treatment of prisoners in the war on terrorism. Republicans said that measure was too broad. Those memos included one between Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. James T. Hill, the commander of Southern Command, about acceptable interrogation techniques at the U.S. prison camp for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

A similar measure also was defeated in the House of Representatives in a 270 to 149 vote.

The Senate-approved measure also made clear that U.S. officials are bound by laws against torture, a response in part to a Justice Department memorandum that argued that laws against torture didn't apply to the president in his role as commander in chief during wartime. U.S. officials are "bound in wartime and peacetime by the legal prohibition against torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment," the measure said.

The votes capped off a day of heated debate over whether the administration is fully cooperating with congressional investigation into the Abu Ghraib. Although the White House released 250 pages of documents on Tuesday, Democrats are dissatisfied because the papers don't address interrogations in Iraq.

"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.

Wednesday's Senate vote would require the White House to turn over all reports by the International Committee for the Red Cross covering prisons in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.

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.