WASHINGTON (AP) – Leading House Republicans signaled Friday that they will try to weaken a Senate effort to limit interrogation techniques that U.S. service members can use on terrorism suspects.

Their remarks made clear that the language in the Senate-passed military spending bill faces uncertain prospects in bargaining between the Senate and House. The Senate approved the $445 billion bill 97-0 on Friday.

The detainee provision, which has drawn a veto threat from the Bush administration, was sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., himself a prisoner of war in Vietnam. It was omitted from the bill passed by the House and could spark embarrassing internal battling among Republicans.

The final bill will provide $50 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and U.S. military efforts against terrorism.

“We’re not going to be delivering a bill to the president’s desk that is veto bait,” said Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Dealing a rare wartime rebuke to President Bush, senators decided that U.S. troops needed clear standards for dealing with terrorism suspects in light of allegations of mistreatment at the Navy’s Guantanamo Bay detainee camp in Cuba and the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

McCain’s provision prohibits cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of anyone in U.S. government custody, regardless of where they are held. It also requires that service members follow procedures in the Army Field Manual during interrogations of prisoners under the Pentagon’s control.

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., and the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the provision was needed “to make absolutely clear the policy of the United States.”

The Senate’s 90-9 vote on the provision could put immense pressure on House Republicans to retain it. They usually side with the administration, but their clout is in question following the resignation of Tom DeLay as majority leader after he was indicted in a campaign finance investigation.

The White House said in a statement that advisers would recommend a veto of the spending bill if it includes language that would hurt efforts in the war on terror by limiting the president’s authority and flexibility. Last summer, Vice President Dick Cheney came to Capitol Hill to pressure McCain, Warner and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to drop the effort.

Since then, the White House has not waged an all-out public campaign against the measure, perhaps lacking the political capital to fight. The president’s poll numbers have plummeted, reflecting the bungled Hurricane Katrina response, soaring gas prices and waning public support for the Iraq war.

Vetoing a measure that provides money for pay raises, benefits, equipment and weapons for troops during wartime could open the president to a flood of criticism.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, will take the lead for the Senate in negotiations as chairman of the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee. Although Stevens supports the intent of McCain’s provision, he voted against it because he fears that it’s too broad. He plans to tweak it during negotiations.

“I do not intend to change anything he says. I intend to add to it to make sure that those people that are involved in intelligence work and are involved in difficult circumstances, say behind enemy lines, are judged by the circumstances they face,” Stevens said.

His House counterpart, Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., is likely to challenge him.

Young questioned whether Al-Qaida and its allies should be protected under the Geneva Conventions that bar mistreatment of prisoners of war, given that the terrorist network was not a party to that agreement.

“We have an obligation to obtain as much intelligence information as we can from prisoners to save the lives of Americans who are fighting the fight,” Young said. “I don’t believe we have any obligation to these terrorists.”

Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, the top Democrat on the House defense appropriations subcommittee, responded: “That’s not the point. We want to protect our guys. This is all about our guys, and our moral standards and our moral standards in the world.”

“The troops don’t know what to do. They don’t have the direction they need in order to supervise the prisoners,” Murtha said.

If McCain’s provision is stricken from the final bill, Warner said his committee would renew efforts to make the provision a law.


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