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McCain, Bush agree on torture ban

House Armed Services chairman threatens to block deal




White House
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
John McCain
John Warner

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After months of opposition, the White House agreed Thursday to Republican Sen. John McCain's call to ban torture by U.S. personnel.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Virginia, and McCain, R-Arizona, met with President Bush to discuss the deal, which Warner said he expects to be finalized by the end of the day.

After the meeting with President Bush, McCain said "this is a done deal."

But Warner's Republican counterpart in the House, Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter of California, said he will not sign onto the deal and may try to block it.

Hunter said he would not agree to the ban until he gets "assurance from the White House" that the nation's ability to gather intelligence is not diminished by the agreement.

On Wednesday evening, the House voted 308-122 to urge negotiators to include McCain's torture ban in the final version of a defense spending bill.

"The majority of the House spoke last night, the majority of the Senate has already spoken. I hope that we can get this resolved within the next 24 hours so the House and Senate can vote and move forward," McCain said.

"We've sent a message to the world that the United States is not like the terrorists. We have no grief for them, but what we are is a nation that upholds values and standards of behavior and treatment of all people, no matter how evil or bad they are," McCain said. "I think that this will help us enormously in winning the war for the hearts and minds of people throughout the world in the war on terror."

Bush said the ban "is to make it clear to the world that this government does not torture and that we adhere to the international convention of torture, whether it be here at home or abroad." (Watch President Bush's and Sen. McCain's statements -- 4:05)

Warner called it "landmark legislation" and lauded McCain for "staying the course." McCain, a former POW who was tortured by his Vietnamese captors, has been steadfast in the face of administration pressure to modify his proposal.

The White House had threatened a veto unless the legislation contained an exemption for the CIA. The administration argued the bill would otherwise limit presidential ability to protect Americans from a terrorist attack.

McCain's initial bill called for banning all U.S. personnel from engaging in "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" of detainees. The only changes to his proposal, McCain said, dealt with people accused of mistreating detainees.

"(It) basically says that if a person, a reasonable person, would feel that someone was acting under orders ... then it could be a defense in case of accusation," McCain said. "And there is a provision for legal counsel for those who are accused (of torture), both civilian and military."

Lawmakers are hoping to reach a final agreement before leaving Capitol Hill for the holidays. (Watch Alberto Gonzales talk about the bill -- 9:22)

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in an interview Thursday that the administration was reluctant to sign onto the McCain proposal because it feared it might overly restrict the intelligence community's ability to fight the war on terror.

"We want to ensure that we have the ability to question and gain valuable information from dangerous terrorists that will help us protect America from another attack," Gonzales said. "We want to conduct ourselves in a way that's consistent with our legal obligations and consistent with the basic American values. We believe that we can do so and still conduct the war in an effective manner."

International pressure has been building on the Bush administration to drop its opposition to the bill, amid the prisoner abuse scandal and accusations the CIA flew terror suspects to secret prisons in eastern Europe.

Last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that the U.N. Convention against Torture applied to U.S. personnel, regardless if they were at home or abroad. (Full story)

CNN's Ed Henry contributed to this report.

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