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GOP Infighting on Detainees Intensifies

Bush bristled at the criticism from his former top diplomat yesterday, calling it "flawed logic" and accusing Powell of equating U.S. tactics with those of terrorists, even though Powell's letter made no such comparison. "It's unacceptable to think that there's any kind of comparison between the behavior of the United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children," Bush said.

He likewise rejected the argument that nations such as Iran and North Korea would cite U.S. precedent in reinterpreting Geneva rules. "If the nations such as those you named adopted the standards within the Detainee Detention Act," Bush said, meaning the model for his preferred legislation, "the world would be better."

Asked twice if he would veto the McCain-backed bill, Bush avoided answering directly but repeated 11 times in the course of an hour that intelligence officials would not "go forward" with their interrogation program. "Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al-Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland," he said.

In a nod to the harsh campaign rhetoric flying around Washington, Bush disavowed a statement by House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who suggested this week that Democrats care more about protecting terrorists than protecting Americans. "I wouldn't have exactly put it that way," Bush said. "But I do believe there's a difference of attitude."

Democrats, who have largely sat on the sidelines as Bush and Republicans battled this week, seized on the president's remarks yesterday. "Instead of picking fights with Colin Powell, John McCain and other military experts, President Bush should change course, do what the American people expect and finally give them the real security they deserve," said Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.).

Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) called for a Judiciary Committee investigation into whether military judge advocates general were pressured into writing a letter this week saying they "do not object" to two sensitive parts of the administration's legislation.

Officials who attended the meeting in question, in the office of Pentagon general counsel William J. Haynes II on Wednesday, said there was no pressure on the military lawyers to produce the letter, describing a robust discussion about how to word its contents. The lawyers initially drafted a letter saying they "support" the two sections but later settled on saying they "do not object" to them.

"None of us would have signed anything if we had not believed it and absolutely agreed with it," Col. Ronald M. Reed, counsel to the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, said yesterday. "The discussion was nothing out of the ordinary."

But late yesterday, Maj. Gen. Scott C. Black, the Army's judge advocate general, sent a new letter to McCain and other senators, saying "further redefinition" of the conventions "is unnecessary and could be seen as a weakening of our treaty obligations, rather than a reinforcement of the standards of treatment."

Staff writers Charles Babington and Josh White contributed to this report.

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