Senate Rejects Request for Abuse Documents
By Helen Dewar and Dan Morgan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 24, 2004; Page A07
The Republican-controlled Senate last night derailed a Democratic demand for the release of more documents dealing with abuse of foreign prisoners as sharp debate erupted on Capitol Hill over the Bush administration's policies and practices on the use of torture.
On a largely party-line vote of 50 to 46, the Senate refused to include the Democratic proposal in the $447.2 billion defense authorization bill for next year, which was on track for Senate approval later in the evening.
A day after the White House released hundreds of pages of documents and repudiated a Justice Department memo suggesting that torture might be justified in interrogating terrorism suspects, several top Republicans rose to the administration's defense and denounced the Democratic demand as election-year politics.
But Democrats said documents released so far, including three of the 23 demanded earlier by Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, did not go far enough in answering questions about administration policies.
"We're being stonewalled," said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.). "I think it raises questions about the integrity of this administration. I think they have got to be open and honest with the American people so we can put this shameful chapter of Abu Ghraib behind us," he added, referring to abuses of detainees at the U.S.-run prison in Iraq.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) accused the White House of orchestrating "a cover-up" on the issue.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), said: "These documents raise more questions than they answer." Arguing in defense of the administration, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), also a member of the judiciary panel, said the release of all documents dealing with U.S. interrogation techniques would "provide a road map to our enemies" and endanger national security. He described the Democratic move to force disclosure of more documents as "a political ploy to try to score points in an election year."
Full transparency does not always serve the country's best interests, "especially when it involves lives, especially when it involves our young people overseas," said Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah).On the final vote, all Republicans voted against the proposal, while all Democrats except Zell Miller (Ga.) supported it.
Airing of the documents also reverberated in the House, where a key Republican called on the Justice Department to investigate "circumstances surrounding" an Aug. 1, 2002, memo that appeared to provide legal grounds for torture. Writing to the department's inspector general on Monday, Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), who chairs the appropriations subcommittee that drafts the Justice Department budget, said the memo "provided legal justifications for the U.S. government to commit cruel, inhumane and degrading acts -- including torture -- on prisoners in U.S. custody."
Wolf said he was also asking the department's Office of Professional Responsibility to look into the way the August 2002 memo was drafted matter and comment on the legal ramifications.
Yesterday, the House Appropriations Committee tacked language onto the 2005 Justice Department spending bill prohibiting any department official or contractor from providing legal advice that could support or justify use of torture. Although the provision was offered by a Democrat, Rep. David R. Obey (Wis.), committee Republicans unanimously adopted it.
In another bipartisan move, the committee also approved nonbinding language calling for the Justice Department to submit a report to Congress within 30 days of enactment laying out all internal documents that condoned or permitted actions in violation of international treaties on torture and the handling of wartime detainees.
The Senate GOP "talking points," prepared by the Senate Republican Policy Committee, cautioned that disclosure of interrogation can be dangerous and defended disclosures the administration has already made.
"Because of an out-of-control media and widespread hysteria, the White House and Pentagon have been forced to reveal secret interrogation techniques just to prove our men and women in uniform aren't torturers and murders," said one of the suggested arguments. "The forced disclosure will now complicate efforts to get information from terrorists who will train to withstand these techniques," said another. "It's high past time we remember who [our] enemies are," said a third.
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