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Bush seeking compromise on CIA torture ban: aide

Reuters/Mohammad Zargham | December 5 2005

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House is seeking a compromise with a leading Senate Republican over its efforts to exempt the CIA from a proposed ban on torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners, President George W. Bush's national security adviser said on Sunday.

"We are working hard in good faith on both sides to come up with an approach that can be supported by the president and the Congress, to both find a way to be aggressive in the war on terror and still comply with U.S. law," national security adviser Stephen Hadley said on "Fox News Sunday."

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, whose proposal for a ban on "cruel, inhumane and degrading" treatment of detainees was passed by the Senate in October over White House objections, said he would not compromise on torture.

Hadley's comments appeared to indicate the White House has softened its strong opposition to the blanket ban on degrading and inhumane treatment, which was passed by a 90-9 vote as an amendment to a $440 billion Pentagon funding bill.

The legislation was widely seen as a rebuke to the White House and an effort to repair the damage to the U.S. image caused by reports of prisoner abuse in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Vice President Dick Cheney led a White House bid to exempt the CIA from the ban, arguing that it would hamper the U.S. war on terrorism. Bush last month defended the effort to stop the Congress from imposing rules on the handling of terrorism suspects.

"What the president has said is that we do not torture," Hadley said. "And he said that while we need to be aggressive in the war against terror, we also have to do it in a way that complies with U.S. law, with U.S. treaty obligations and with the Constitution."

'FRANK AND OPEN DISCUSSIONS'

He said on ABC's "This Week" he had had "good conversations" with McCain, a senior member of the Armed Services Committee and a major backer of the Iraq war, and White House staff had been in contact with other congressional officials to hammer out a deal.

McCain said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he and Hadley had met three times and held "frank and open discussions" without any agreement yet.

McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner during the Vietnam War, said "I won't. We won't," compromise on torture, but said he was in talks with the White House about other aspects of the matter to try to reach an agreement.

Hadley said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, during a European tour this week, will address European concerns about reports that the United States secretly transfers terrorism suspects to foreign countries to be tortured.

"We comply with U.S. law, we respect the sovereignty of the countries with which we deal, and we do not move people around the world so that they can be tortured," he told Fox.

Hadley said Bush was troubled by revelations last week that the U.S. military secretly paid Iraqi newspapers to print pro-American articles.

He said the administration did not know all the facts, but would stop the practice if the reports turn out to be true.

"The Pentagon is looking into them. To the extent that kind of behavior is inconsistent with our policy, it will be stopped," Hadley said.

(Additional reporting by Joanne Kenen)

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