In a break with the White House, the Republican-controlled Senate overwhelmingly approved a measure Wednesday that would set standards for the military's treatment of detainees, a response to the Abu Ghraib scandal and other allegations that U.S. soldiers have abused prisoners.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a victim of torture while a prisoner during the Vietnam War, won approval of the measure that would make interrogation techniques outlined in the Army Field Manual the standard for handling detainees in Defense Department custody and prohibit 'cruel, inhuman or degrading' treatment of U.S.-held prisoners.
The White House has threatened to veto the $440 billion military spending bill to which the measure was attached, and Vice President Dick Cheney has lobbied to defeat the detainee measure. White House spokesman Scott McClellan objected that the measure would 'limit the president's ability as commander-in-chief to effectively carry out the war on terrorism.'
But McCain struck an emotional chord with his colleagues as he recalled his more than five years in a POW camp.
'Our enemies didn't adhere to the Geneva Conventions,' he said, referring to the international agreement on the treatment of prisoners of war. 'Many of my comrades were subjected to very cruel, very inhumane and degrading treatment, a few of them even unto death.
'But every one of us -- every single one of us -- knew and took great strength from the belief that we were different from our enemies, that we were better than them, that we, if the roles were reversed, would not disgrace ourselves by committing or countenancing such mistreatment of them.'
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a retired four-star Army general, endorsed McCain's effort.
"The world will note that America is making a clear statement with respect to the expected future behavior of our soldiers," Powell said in a letter that McCain read on the Senate floor. "Such a reaction will help deal with the terrible public diplomacy crisis created by Abu Ghraib.
I am in agreement with McCain on this one, and I certainly hope that the President won't dust of his veto pen to block this. Arguements could be made on whether what is in the Army Field Manual is the right standard or not. Not being familiar with that document I couldn't say. Having a clear list of rules on this is obviously needed however, and so far the President, in probably his single greatest failing, has not provided that.