Senate Approves Detainee Treatment Rules

At the urging of John McCain, the Senate overwhelmingly voted to include rules governing the treatment of military detainees in the military spending bill.

Senate Approves Detainee Treatment Rules (AP)

The Senate faces a confrontation with the House over a $440 billion military spending bill that, despite White House opposition, would impose restrictions on the treatment of terrorism suspects. Delivering a rare wartime slap at Pentagon authority and President Bush, the GOP-controlled Senate voted 90-9 on Wednesday to back an amendment that would prohibit the use of “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” against anyone in U.S. government custody, regardless of where they are held.

Sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the proposal also would require all service members to follow procedures in the Army Field Manual when they detain and interrogate terrorism suspects. “This amendment strives to establish uniform standards for the interrogation of prisoners and detainees as a means for helping ensure our service men and women are well trained, well briefed, knowledgeable of their legal, professional and moral duties and obligations,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

The Senate was expected to vote on the overall spending bill by week’s end. The House-approved version of it does not include the detainee provision. It is unclear how much support the measure has in the GOP-run House. However, Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense, who supports the measure, could prove a powerful ally when House and Senate negotiators meet to reconcile differences in their bills. And the House could face immense pressure after such a mandate by the Senate. All but nine Republicans voted in favor of the legislation.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said he was concerned that McCain’s legislation could inadvertently endanger the lives of people who work in classified roles, and he hoped to fix the potential problems in the final bill. “There are some changes that have to be made if we are going to be faithful to those people who live in the classified world,” Stevens said.

The rebuke by members of the president’s own party shows how reluctant some lawmakers are to give him unchecked wartime power as the conflict in Iraq drags on and U.S. casualties mount. It also comes as Bush seeks to show strength after weeks in which his approval rating plummeted as Americans questioned the direction of the war, the sluggish federal response to Hurricane Katrina and the surge in gas prices.

Bush administration officials say the legislation would limit the president’s authority and flexibility in war, and advisers say they would recommend a veto of the spending bill if the prisoner provision is included in the version that goes to his desk.

The House will likely force a watering down of these measures and the president would almost certainly veto any attempt by the Congress to limit something that has been considered a fundamental part of presidential authority.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    “Has been considered a fundamental part of presidential authority”?

    Article I, Section 8, Clause 11: Congress shall have the power “To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.”

  2. James Joyner says:

    Anderson: Sure. But we haven’t adhered to the Constitution with regard to the war power since virtually the beginning of the Republic. The conflict between the president’s authority as commander-in-chief vice those listed for Congress has been dubbed “An invitation to struggle.” For the most part,the president has won that struggle as a fait accompli.

  3. Herb says:

    I must now assume that both Republican and Democrat Senators comdone the use of torture, beheading, humiliation and outright cruelty by those who are trying their best to kill us and make the USA into a fanitical muslum state, but our people who are fighting the terrorists must be Mr/Ms “goody two shoes”.

    When, are we going to learn that this is a street and alley fight and that, as long as we afford those who are doing everything possible to make every US citizen a slave to their perveted way of life, the same freedoms and privleges we enjoy, we are going to lose the battle and the war.

    Those Senators who are trying to tie our hands behind our backs, I award each end evrery one of the “The Golden Turban Award” for their cowardness in the face of the American people.

  4. legion says:

    I can only pray Herb never gains any actual power or authority in this country.

    Bush has been mumbling about vetoing this bill… after years of hollow veto threats, I hereby double-dog-dare him to make _this_ the first thing he ever vetoes.

  5. Anderson says:

    Very true, JJ, but I thought this casual disregard for the plain language of the Constitution was supposed to be a bad thing. 😉

    When was the last time we declared war, WW2? Our military adventures since then haven’t covered us in glory.

    Big-picture, the 20th century saw a massive expansion of executive power, a similar expansion of judicial power … at the expense of Congress.

    The current spectacle of corrupt Republicans running both chambers, while corrupt Democrats fear an investigation that might expose their own misdeeds, is only the latest reminder that Congress is the remainder of the swamp on which D.C. was built.

    So anytime Congress shows a hint of waking up and acting like a coequal branch of gov’t, rather than a rubber-stamp for Bush’s policies, I’m for that.

  6. Herb says:

    I can now award the “Golden Turbin Award” to Leigon. Maybe he can wear it when the extremist behead him.

  7. Herb says:

    Hey Legion:

    I just heard that OBL has awarded you the “Holyer Than Thou” and the ” Ms. Goody Two Shoes” award.

    If you had any power, the terrorists would own the country.

  8. legion says:

    Thanks Herb. I’ll return the favor by awarding you the coveted “Least Unexpected Schoolyard Retort” award.

    Herb’s sartorial advice aside, I’ll second Anderson’s words. It takes more than a war to turn a president into an emperor… The absolute ceding of Congressional oversight and authority (by both parties) is utterly shameful. On the bright side, it sounds like this Meiers nomination has finally gotten across to the Repubs that when Bush says ‘trust me’, _everyone_ should run for cover.

  9. Herb says:

    Legion, You are the perfecy example of:

    “You can always tell a kid, but you can’t tell him much”