House panels approve stronger interrogation, surveillance measures
WASHINGTON — House Republicans handed President Bush narrow victories Wednesday on two broad anti-terrorism measures, sending them to likely votes next week, but the gains came amid signs that party infighting is still threatening to derail the president's election-year push for tough security bills.
After a week of intense lobbying from administration officials, Republican lawmakers on the Judiciary and Intelligence committees pushed through a measure to expand government surveillance powers, particularly at the National Security Agency.
And, after initially failing to muster enough votes to approve Bush's proposed rules for interrogating enemy combatants, Judiciary Republicans performed procedural contortions to round up enough support to pass it.
Democrats immediately accused the president and Republicans in Congress of playing politics with national security and tried to pre-empt efforts to cast Democrats as blocking measures to make the United States safer.
The president's bill to authorize more extreme interrogation techniques and set rules for trying terrorist suspects hit an initial snag, but the House Judiciary Committee approved it, largely along party lines, after a second vote.
Critics said the challenges Republicans faced garnering support for the bill would bolster the efforts of three dissident Senate Republicans who are trying to tighten rules governing interrogations on enemy combatants. In the Senate, Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., reported progress but no deal in the negotiations with the three defectors.
The surveillance bill's path in the lead-up to the November elections has been far rougher than the White House had hoped, but lawmakers said they expect a final passage next week, before members hit the campaign trail.
Senate action on the surveillance bill has been delayed until at least next week, and negotiations could still deadlock, but congressional aides say its prospects for passage are still good.
Both the House and Senate measures would legalize the president's controversial warrantless-surveillance program, which allows the NSA to monitor phone calls and e-mails between the U.S. and overseas involving people suspected of having terrorist ties.
The measures also would expand that power to include conversations that did not involve terrorism.
The two key changes in the House bill would allow warrantless eavesdropping and searches of homes in the event of an "imminent threat" that involves loss of life, bodily harm or economic damage; and eliminate a requirement that all members of the Intelligence Committee be apprised of warrantless spying. Wilson said her bill would strengthen oversight because it would provide the committee chairman the option of notifying other members of warrantless spying.
Critics, however, said that both the Senate and House bills hand Bush too much unchecked power.
Judge orders release
of detainees' names
NEW YORK — A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the Defense Department to release documents containing the identities of some detainees at the U.S. prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, who were released or who suffered mistreatment.
In ruling in a case brought by The Associated Press, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff said the government cannot keep the names secret. He gave the government a week to provide the news organization with the information despite government claims that doing so would violate detainees' privacy.
The government's treatment of the hundreds of prisoners at the prison has troubled human-rights groups. Most have been held without being charged or publicly identified since investigations were begun into the Sept. 11 attacks.
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