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Strategy Memo: How the Right Plans to Sink the Anti-Torture Amendment Behind Closed Doors

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"Strategy Memo: How the Right Plans to Sink the Anti-Torture Amendment Behind Closed Doors"

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The McCain anti-torture amendment has twice been passed by the U.S. Senate. The Senate voted 90-9 to include it in the “must pass” Defense Department Appropriations bill for FY 2006; for good measure, senators later attached the amendment to the Defense Department Authorization bill as well.

Despite this overwhelming support, the amendment’s final passage is not assured. The White House and congressional conservatives have developed a two-pronged strategy to prevent the amendment from becoming law.

1) Vice President Cheney has been seeking changes that would effectively gut the amendment, by exempting CIA interrogations from compliance with the requirements.

Even before the latest revelations about detainees being held at secret CIA “black sites,” supporters of the McCain amendment had made clear that such an exemption would render the amendment worse than current law.

The latest reports suggest that the White House is finally getting the message, and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley has been negotiating with Senator McCain in hopes of securing modest but potentially problematic changes intended to minimize the exposure of U.S. intelligence officers to prosecution for alleged abuses. Those negotiations could be concluded within the next few days.

2) The Administration has also threatened a veto of each of the two Defense bills if the McCain amendment remains attached to them. At this point it remains unclear which of the two bills containing the McCain amendment will move first.

The House could move to appoint conferees on the appropriations bill before the end of the week. Meanwhile, the Armed Services Committees are laboring to resolve this and dozens of other issues regarding the authorization bill in hopes of passing it at any time.

One likely scenario is for conservatives to allow the authorization bill to pass with the McCain amendment attached and intact, at which point appropriators would seek to strip it from the “must pass” appropriations bill before it also passes. This would enable the President to sign the appropriations bill but make good his threat to veto the authorization, thus killing the amendment.

To forestall that risk, appropriations conferees who support the McCain amendment will seek to block any effort to drop the amendment from the appropriations bill unless the White House promises that the President to sign the authorization bill as well.

Whichever bill reaches the finish line first, it looks increasingly likely that the McCain amendment will become law. Our nation and the world will be the better for it.

Mark Agrast

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