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Cheney leads White House fight against torture ban
Congressional negotiators are feeling heat from the White House and constituents as they consider whether to back a Senate-approved ban on torturing detainees in U.S. custody or weaken the prohibition, as the White House prefers.
Led by Vice President Dick Cheney, the administration is floating a proposal that would allow the president to exempt covert agents outside the Defense Department from the ban.
Meanwhile, a provision by Sen. John McCain would bar the use of "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" against anyone in U.S. government custody, regardless of where they are held.
"There's a lot of public pressure to retain the language intact. At the same time, there's pressure from the vice president's office to modify it," said Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, which supports McCain's provision.
In a meeting last week with McCain, R-Ariz., Cheney and CIA Director Porter Goss suggested language that would exclude clandestine counterterrorism operations overseas by agencies other than the Pentagon "if the president determines that such operations are vital to the protection of the United States or its citizens from terrorist attack."
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Tuesday the president has "made our position very clear: We do not condone torture, nor would he ever authorize the use of torture."
McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, said he rejected the White House proposal because it "would basically allow the CIA to engage in torture."
It is unclear how much influence McCain has in the negotiations to resolve differences between House and Senate versions of the $445 billion defense bill. McCain will not be involved directly in those talks.
Among those leading the negotiations will be
Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla.