Senator open to deal on detainees in defense bill

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 06, 2011 5:29 PM
Senator open to deal on detainees in defense bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top Republican senator on Thursday said a bill that would limit how terrorism suspects are detained and prosecuted gives the Obama administration flexibility it wants, but he was willing to make more changes.

Concerns raised by the White House over Congress setting the rules on how and where to prosecute terrorism suspects has held up Senate consideration of a massive bill authorizing defense programs for next year.

Handling the suspects, including those at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has become a thorny issue for the White House because it has blocked closing that facility and delayed the trials for the September 11, 2001 suspects.

"I strongly believe that the language adopted by the Senate Armed Services Committee is reasonable, fair, and most importantly constitutional," Senator John McCain, top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.

But he added, "I will work with Chairman (Carl) Levin and the administration to remedy any deficiencies in the language."

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid has said he would not bring the defense policy bill to the floor for a vote until changes were made to address the administration's concerns on the terrorism suspects provisions.

The Senate Armed Services Committee passed a compromise bill, including requiring military detention for core al Qaeda suspects, limiting transfers overseas and barring the military from building facilities on U.S. soil to house detainees being held at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison.

McCain said the provisions were directed at members of al Qaeda and its affiliates and it allowed waivers.

He said the White House needed to be more specific about its concerns, but that he was open to making some changes.

Reid said in an October 4 letter to the leaders of the committee that the administration needed more flexibility to deal with terrorism suspects.

The administration has sought to prosecute terrorism suspects in both traditional criminal and military courts, but Republicans and some Democrats have urged that they only use military courts and blocked bringing them to U.S. soil.

(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington, editing by Vicki Allen)