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House Approves Bill on Detainees

But GOP sponsors said the language is essential to protect well-intentioned CIA officers from vague guidelines. "The Constitution says we will provide for the common defense, not provide for the criminal defense" of enemy combatants, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) said during a rare instance in which both houses debated the same legislation simultaneously.

Some of the fiercest debates focused on whether foreign terrorism suspects should have access to U.S. courts for challenging the legality of their detention, a right known as habeas corpus.

House Republicans blocked Democrats from offering amendments, including one that would have extended the habeas corpus right to detainees. House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) said terrorism suspects have enough rights without habeas corpus, including the right to a lawyer, to be presumed innocent, to cross-examine witnesses and to collect evidence. "Let's bring justice before the eyes of the children and widows of Sept. 11," he implored on the House floor.

But Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said: "This is how a nation loses its moral compass, its identity, its values and, eventually, its freedom. . . . We rebelled against King George III for less restrictions on liberty than this." Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said the habeas corpus right is so fundamental that it "is un-American" to deny it to detainees held by U.S. forces.

The Senate will vote today on an amendment to grant the habeas corpus right to detainees. Supporters say the Supreme Court would rule the legislation unconstitutional without a habeas corpus provision, but opponents say the House would balk at the amendment.

The legislation loosely defines "cruel or inhuman treatment" of detainees, which would constitute a war crime. The administration said the term should apply to techniques resulting in "severe" physical or mental pain, but lawmakers set the standard at "serious." The abused detainee's symptoms would have to include "serious and non-transitory mental harm, which need not be prolonged."

For lesser offenses barred by the Geneva Conventions -- those falling between cruelty and minor abuse -- the legislation would authorize the president to interpret "the meaning and application" of relevant provisions of the Geneva Conventions. The administration's language would have to be published rather than provided in secret to some lawmakers.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) praised the legislation, saying Americans should not give foreigners suspected of being enemy combatants the rights that U.S. citizens enjoy. "The Global War on Terror is different from any war we have ever known," he said in a statement. "As a country we must understand that adaptation to these new situations is critical in order to achieve victory over those who seek to hurt us as a nation."

But the Center for Constitutional Rights condemned the bill, saying it would "authorize the indefinite detention of non-citizens without access to courts -- even if they are not charged with any crime."

Staff writers Jonathan Weisman and R. Jeffrey Smith contributed to this report.


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