US Senate blocks bid to demand abuse memos
WASHINGTON: Backing President George W Bush, Republicans in the US Senate on Wednesday defeated a bid by Democrats to force the administration to release documents on the treatment of enemy combatants in the wake of the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq.
On a party-line vote, the Senate defeated 50-46 an amendment demanding Attorney General John Ashcroft turn over documents on the interrogation and treatment of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Democrats accused Republicans of cooperating with a White House cover-up of policies that they said may have contributed to the scandal at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad where photographs showed US soldiers abusing detainees.
Republicans charged Democrats with playing election-year politics on an issue that was damaging the United States’ reputation and intelligence gathering abilities.
Republicans had sought to kill the measure on a procedural vote, but five Republicans sided with Democrats to defeat that effort and force a direct vote on the Democrats’ amendment.
Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, said he felt the issue of the treatment of prisoners was too important to be decided with a parliamentary maneuver.
“This is the most serious issue, and it goes right to what America is all about,” McCain, who has urged the White House to be forthcoming on information to try to put the scandal behind it, said after the vote.
Republican Senators Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Lindsey Graham of South Caroline, Mike DeWine of Ohio and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, also sided with Democrats on the procedural vote.
Democrats, who had accused Republicans of trying to disguise their move to block the release of material, said they won a small victory.
“This was a shot across the bow,” said Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, who said the vote showed “that patience is wearing thin with the White House’s refusal to level with the American people.”
Under pressure from lawmakers, the White House on Tuesday released newly declassified papers to try to demonstrate that Bush and his top aides insisted that detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, be treated humanely. reuters