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Hurdles Cleared for Detainee Legislation
However, Bush and GOP lawmakers will have to settle for less than a full loaf of the anti-terror measures they had hoped to enact before the Nov. 7 elections.
Bush wanted Congress to pass separate legislation that would have authorized warrantless surveillance of international communications of terror suspects, as well as the separate plan to establish a court system to prosecute terrorists.
But as lawmakers scurried to finish several items before leaving town this weekend and focus instead on midterm elections, Bush's terrorism surveillance bill fell to the wayside. Vast differences between House and Senate versions of the wiretapping bill cannot be bridged before week's end, Republican officials conceded.
That allowed Republicans to focus on passing a bill that would allow Bush to put the nation's most dangerous terror suspects on trial this fall _ just as voters head to the polls.
The legislation would establish a court system to prosecute terror suspects, after the Supreme Court had ruled in June that Bush needed Congress' blessing to do so. And while the bill would grant defendants more legal rights than they had under the old system, it nevertheless would permit some trial evidence not usually allowed in regular U.S. courts.
Hearsay evidence, for example, would be permitted, as long as a judge finds it to be reliable. Coerced testimony would be allowed in narrow circumstances _ generally if a judge finds it reliable and the statement was taken before a 2005 ban on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
The bill provides extensive definitions of war crimes such as torture, rape and biological experiments _ provisions intended to protect CIA interrogators from being prosecuted for war crimes when handling terror suspects.
Bush wanted a provision that would have said the United States interprets Geneva Convention standards to mean that cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment cannot be used. GOP senators balked at this request because they said it would "redefine" the 1949 treaty.
But senators did agree to add language that says the president can "interpret the meaning and application" of the treaty. While he would not be allowed to authorized interrogation techniques that would violate prohibited war crimes, he would be allowed to decide whether interrogation techniques are within bounds.