WASHINGTON (AP) – A rebellious Senate committee defied President Bush yesterday and approved terror-detainee legislation he has vowed to block, deepening Republican conflict over terrorism and national security in the middle of election season.
Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia, normally a Bush supporter, pushed the measure through his Armed Services Committee by a 15-9 vote, with Warner and three other GOP lawmakers joining Democrats. The vote set the stage for a showdown on the Senate floor as early as next week.
Earlier in the day, Bush had journeyed to the Capitol to try nailing down support for his own version of the legislation.
“I will resist any bill that does not enable this program to go forward with legal clarity,” Bush said at the White House.
The president’s measure would go further than the Senate package in allowing classified evidence to be withheld from defendants in terror trials, using coerced testimony and protecting U.S. interrogators against prosecution for using methods that violate the Geneva Conventions.
The internal GOP struggle intensified along other fronts, too, as Colin Powell, Bush’s first secretary of state, declared his opposition to the president’s plan.
“The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism,” Powell, a retired general who is also a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in a letter.
Powell said that Bush’s bill, by redefining the kind of treatment the Geneva Conventions allow, “would add to those doubts. Furthermore, it would put our own troops at risk.”
Firing back, White House spokesman Tony Snow said Powell was confused about the White House plan. Later, Snow said he probably shouldn’t have used that word.