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Powell opposes Bush plan on Geneva Conventions

Deutsche Presse Agentur
Published: Thursday September 14, 2006

Washington- Former US secretary of state Colin Powell came out strongly against US President George W Bush's push for new US laws to strengthen the CIA's authority to conduct tough interrogations of detainees in the war on terrorism. Powell's warning came in a letter released Thursday by Republican Senator John McCain, who broke with his party by also opposing Bush's proposal. Powell, who served as the Pentagon's top military officer, said Bush's plan would alter the meaning of the Geneva Conventions, put US troops at greater risk and undermine the war on terrorism.

"The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism," Powell said of his former boss' plan. "To redefine Common Article 3 would add to those doubts."

Bush was on Capitol Hill Thursday lobbying Congress to support his his plan to alter the US interpretation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which the administration says is vague about which interrogation methods are allowed.

"I reminded them the most important job of government is to protect the homeland," Bush said during his visit.

White House spokesman Tony Snow, answering a reporter's question, said Powell was confused about the administration's intent. Redefining the Geneva Conventions was not the point, Snow said.

"We're not trying to change anything. We're trying to figure out what it means," Snow said.

Article 3 requires that prisoners not suffer "cruel treatment and torture" or "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment."

McCain, a prisoner of war in Vietnam who experienced torture, defied the White House this year by insisting that the defence budget contain language explicitly banning the use of torture on detainees.

Powell said Bush's plan would contradict what is now known as the McCain amendment.

"I do not support such a step and believe it would be inconsistent with the McCain amendment on torture which I supported last year," Powell's letter said.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has agreed in principle to support a bill that would authorize military commissions to try suspects held in the war on terrorism, but will not back the White House plan to redefine Article 3.

The issue has split the Republican party less than two months before mid-term elections and has set up a major showdown with the Bush team.

The US Supreme Court in June ruled that Bush's military commissions were unconstitutional because he did not have legal authorization to give such an order. Bush has pledged to get congressional approval and continue with the trials.

The US treatment of prisoners in the war on terrorism has been a source of international outrage and complaints of civil rights violations.

Last week, Bush, under international pressure, announced that all detainees in US custody would be subject to the Geneva Conventions, a move he had resisted for years.

Ten of the roughly 450 detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been formally charged with terrorism-related crimes, but the process has been on hold because of the legal challenges.

© 2006 DPA - Deutsche Presse-Agenteur