Bush's CIA detainee plan clears US lower house


By Tony Czuczka Sep 28, 2006, 0:13 GMT

Washington - US President George W Bush's plan to lock in tough CIA interrogations of terror suspects cleared the House of Representatives Wednesday in a measure that would also pave the way for military trials of al-Qaeda figures in US custody.

The hotly disputed bill, passed the lower house of Congress by 253-168 votes. It sets out broad guidelines for questioning techniques, but critics note that it avoids saying precisely what is allowed and what is not.

Democrats, who opposed the measure, charged that the leeway given to interrogators and the limited legal recourse granted to terror suspects who would face military trials gave Bush dictatorial powers.

The secret CIA prison programme, launched after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington, caused international outrage when it was revealed in media reports late last year.

In a dramatic revelation this month, Bush acknowledged the effort and insisted it had prevented terror attacks and made the US safer.

'Today, the House passed legislation that would allow this vital programme to continue and help keep our country safe,' Bush said in a written statement.

The US Senate is working on similar legislation and both houses have to agree on a bill before it can become law. Bush urged lawmakers to pass the package before the end of the week, when Congress is due to break before November 7 mid-term elections.

A Senate vote was expected by Thursday, though provisions that bar anyone the US deems an 'unlawful enemy combatant' from appealing to civilian courts remain in dispute.

Bush has also announced that 14 key al-Qaeda suspects, including alleged September 11 mastermind Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, were moved from CIA detention to military custody at the US base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Bush has pressed Congress to pass legislation so the trials of those suspects and others among the roughly 450 Guantanamo detainees can begin.

In addition, the administration needs backing in law for policies to guide future CIA interrogations, which are more aggressive than military rules allow.

In what its backers say is an effort to uphold the Geneva Conventions, the House bill would bar torture and 'cruel or inhuman treatment,' including 'severe or serious physical or mental pain or suffering.'

Opposition lawmakers blasted Bush's plan as undermining US democratic ideals.

'This bill is everything we don't believe in,' shouted Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich, waving a copy of the bill on the podium.

Bush's hand was forced when the US Supreme Court ruled in June that the 'military commissions' set up to conduct trials of Guantanamo detainees were unconstitutional and against the Geneva Conventions. So far, 10 of the roughly 450 Guantanamo inmates have been charged.