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Hagel: Torture Exemption Would Be Mistake

Associated Press/DOUGLASS K. DANIEL | November 7 2005

A leading Republican senator said Sunday that the Bush administration is making "a terrible mistake" in opposing a congressional ban on torture and other inhuman treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, considered a potential presidential candidate in 2008, said many Republican senators support the ban proposed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War.

The ban was approved by a 90-9 vote last month in the Senate and added to a defense spending bill. The White House has threatened a veto, but the fate of the proposal depends on House-Senate negotiations that will reconcile different versions of the spending measure. The House's does not include the ban.

Vice President Dick Cheney has lobbied Republican senators to allow an exemption for those held by the CIA if preventing an attack is at stake.

"I think the administration is making a terrible mistake in opposing John McCain's amendment on detainees and torture," Hagel, R-Neb., said on "This Week" on ABC. "Why in the world they're doing that, I don't know."

McCain, citing the Senate vote as well as support from the public and from former Secretary of State Colin Powell and others with government service, said he will push the issue with the White House "as far as necessary."

"We need to get this issue behind us," McCain said on "Fox News Sunday." "Our image in the world is suffering very badly, and one of the reasons for it is the perception that we abuse people that we take captive."

Mistreatment of prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and allegations of mistreatment at the U.S.-run camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have drawn withering criticism from around the world. Human rights organizations also contend that the United States sends detainees to countries that it knows will use torture to try to extract intelligence information.

When the White House failed to kill the anti-torture provision while it was pending in the Senate, it began arguing for an exemption in cases of "clandestine counterterrorism operations conducted abroad, with respect to terrorists who are not citizens of the United States."

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