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The White House and Senate Republicans who revolted against the president’s proposal on tough CIA interrogations of terrorism suspects said on Sunday a compromise was possible to heal a party rift over treatment of prisoners.
Stephen Hadley, White House national security adviser, said election-year differences between President George W. Bush and senior senators from his own party could be worked out on legislation to allow the CIA to continue the program.
The White House wants Congress to pass a law that would give the CIA a legal foundation for tough questioning methods which it says have protected the country from attack, but which critics say are tantamount to torture.
"In a war on terror there are some things that have to remain secret if they are to be effective, but it is not out of control and we’re not saying trust us," Hadley said on ABC’s "This Week" program. "We’re going to the Congress trying to get clear legal standards."
A Republican-led Senate committee rebelled against Bush on Thursday, passing a bill giving foreign terrorist suspects broader rights that backers say would repair a U.S. image damaged by harsh treatment of detainees.
The rift comes less than two months before November congressional elections in which Republicans, seeking to keep control of Congress, are trying to convince voters that their party can best protect the country.
Hadley said any agreement should continue the CIA program, giving interrogators clear guidance, while meeting Sen. John McCain’s requirement of no change to Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions that bars inhumane treatment of prisoners.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, said on CBS that he believed there was a way to "accommodate both interests."
He said his staff would meet with aides for Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner of Virginia, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and McCain of Arizona — senior Republicans who have opposed Bush’s plan.
But details of any compromise remained unclear.
‘MORAL HIGH GROUND’
McCain, a prisoner of war during the Vietnam conflict, also said a compromise was possible and that the United States must hold the "moral high ground" on the issue.
"This has nothing to do with al Qaeda. It has everything to do with America," he said on ABC.
The White House wants to clarify the ban on "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment" stated in Common Article 3.
"I’m saying that nobody knows what humiliating treatment is. What does it mean?" Hadley said on CNN’s "Late Edition."
On CBS’s "Face the Nation," he said: "This is not about torture. This is about a program that is going to be professionally run by people who have been highly trained."
The White House will not comment on techniques, but media reports have said "water boarding," which simulates drowning, and sleep deprivation have been employed by the CIA.
Newsweek magazine, in its September 25 issue, said the CIA has sought to use techniques that include induced hypothermia, long periods of forced standing, sleep deprivation, "belly slap," and sound and light manipulation.
Administration officials have agreed to drop water boarding from a list of approved CIA techniques, Newsweek said. That method was prohibited in the new Army Field Manual.
Some lawmakers, including McCain, say they fear the harsh practices put American soldiers at greater risk of abuse if they are captured in conflicts overseas.
But National Intelligence Director John Negroponte said if McCain’s version of the legislation were enacted, the CIA believed its interrogation program would have to stop.
"I think it’s very, very important that this program go forth. It’s provided valuable information that has saved lives of Americans and significant plots against our homeland have been disrupted as a result," he said on "FOX News Sunday."
Copyright © 2006 Reuters Limited