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Democrats push for more documents from White House

WASHINGTON—In a politically charged atmosphere, congressional Democrats moved 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.

Democrats in the House of Representatives and the Senate said the documents released Tuesday covered only what had taken place in Afghanistan and at 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?"

Both houses were expected to vote Wednesday on measures to force the White House to release more documents. The House measure would withhold funding from intelligence activities until the documents are turned over to Congress. The Senate measure asks the administration to release all memoranda related to interrogations and torture since President Bush was inaugurated.

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.

They 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 tempers frayed. 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."

Hatch also said legal advice about how to fight the war should be kept secret. "We are fighting absolute terrorists who would destroy this country and destroy every person involved in our overseas operations if they had a chance, and do it by any means possible," he said. "If we are so transparent that we tell them everything that is on our minds, then I got to tell you, we are putting our young people at risk."

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.

How far the Democrats will be able to go in pushing their demands for more documents will depend on whether Republicans are willing to press the issue. With Republicans firmly in control of the House, the House Armed Services Committee has held one public hearing and three classified briefings on the prison-abuse issue. The committee's chairman, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., is opposed to any further investigation.

House Majority Leader Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, has blamed Democrats for trying to divert attention from fighting the war by focusing on the prison abuses. "We shouldn't use the war on terror as a political tool for the November elections," said Stuart Roy, DeLay's spokesman.


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