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Senate committee approves military commissions bill over Bush objections

[JURIST] The US Senate Armed Services Committee [official website] voted 15-9 Thursday to send a bill authorizing military commissions [PDF text; JURIST report] drafted by Republican Senators John Warner, Lindsey Graham and John McCain to the full Senate for consideration despite objections from the White House, which has offered its own proposal [PDF text; White House fact sheet]. The stricter Bush administration bill to establish military trial procedures for terror detainees would allow classified evidence to be withheld from defendants and would limit prisoners' rights guaranteed by the Geneva Conventions [ICRC materials]. Senate leaders have indicated that a full Senate vote on the military commissions legislation could come as early as next week. AP has more.

Prior to Thursday's vote former US Secretary of State Colin Powell [official profile] sent a letter [PDF text] to Sen. McCain, expressing opposition to the Bush plan, saying that provisions that would redefine Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions [text] would be "inconsistent" with the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 [JURIST document], which incorporated the so-called McCain amendment. Powell wrote, "The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. To redefine Common Article 3 would add to those doubts. Furthermore, it would put our own troops at risk." The White House has disputed statements that it is proposing to "reinterpret" or "redefine" Common Article 3, saying instead that it is proposing to "clarify" Common Article 3 [fact sheet; Washington File report] because parts of the standard "are currently vague and undefined."

Earlier Thursday President Bush made a rare visit to Capitol Hill to urge US House Republicans to approve his version of the legislation. Bush praised [statement] the US House Armed Services Committee [official website] for approving [JURIST report] its version of the Military Commissions Bill [HASC press release, PDF], which is very similar to the administration's proposal. Bush called the bill "a very important piece of legislation...that will give us the tools and wherewithal to protect this country" and said that he will "continue to work with members of the Congress to get good legislation so we can do our duty." AP has more.

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