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House Voting on U.S. Treatment Of Terror Suspects Postponed

By Eric Schmitt
THE NEW YORK TIMES


WASHINGTON

The House Republican leadership has delayed a vote on a proposed ban against cruel and degrading treatment of prisoners in American custody in what Democrats say is an effort to spare Vice President Dick Cheney an embarrassing defeat.

House Democrats this week had planned to offer a motion to endorse language in a military spending bill, written by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that would prohibit abusive treatment of suspected terrorists. The motion would instruct House negotiators to adopt McCain’s precise language, which the Senate approved last month, 90-9. The White House has threatened to veto any bill containing the provision, saying it would restrict the president’s ability to fight terrorism and protect the country.

The White House, in negotiations led by Cheney, is insisting that the CIA be exempted from the proposed ban.

While not binding, the motion would put pressure on conferees who are trying to wrap up work on the underlying $453 billion military spending bill this week. House Republicans have warned the White House that the motion is likely to pass.

But Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., has not formally appointed the House conferees, and with no conferees there can be no motion to instruct them.

Democrats on Thursday were quick to accuse Hastert, a close friend and political ally of Cheney, of taking steps to postpone a vote that would embarrass the vice president at a time when his former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby Jr., is under indictment in the CIA leak case.

“At a time when we should be protecting American servicemen and women from torture and improving our sullied international reputation, the majority in the House is more interested in protecting the vice president and this administration from embarrassment,” said Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, a California Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

Rep. Jane Harman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a telephone interview that the White House’s opposition to McCain’s provision was damaging America’s image aboard. “It’s hurting the U.S. moral position to have it be perceived that some in our government want no rules,” Harman said.