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Senators and Bush Administration Reach Consensus on Detention Bill

By Kate Zernike


The Bush administration and congressional Republicans reached agreement Thursday on legislation governing the treatment and interrogation of terror suspects after weeks of debate that fractured Republicans heading into the midterm elections.

Under the deal, President Bush dropped his previous demand that Congress redefine the nation’s obligations under the Geneva Conventions, handing a victory to a group of Republicans, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, whose opposition to the White House approach had created a showdown over a fundamental aspect of the rules for battling terrorism.

The administration’s original stance had run into fierce resistance from former and current military lawyers and Bush’s former secretary of state, Colin L. Powell, a former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. They argued, as did McCain and the other two senators leading the resistance, that any redefinition would invite other nations to alter their obligations and endanger American troops captured abroad.

“There is no doubt that the integrity and the letter and the spirit of the Geneva Conventions have been preserved,” said McCain, who was tortured during more than five years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.

Members of Congress and administration officials announced the deal after emerging from a tense and intricate all-day meeting in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office in a Senate building, saying they will try to push it through in the five days Congress is scheduled to meet before lawmakers leave to campaign.

The White House moved quickly to assert that it had not surrendered. Administration officials characterized the negotiations as cooperative and the result as a victory for all sides.