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Just how far can CIA interrogators go?

Defining limits on 'alternative' interrogation methods is major concern of key US lawmakers.

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Members of Congress are looking for answers to very concrete questions on how the Central Intelligence Agency questions terror suspects.

Is it ever appropriate, for example, to put a naked detainee in a cold cell and douse him with water? If so, for how long? Should interrogators be able to lead people to think they are drowning (a practice known as waterboarding)?

Many lawmakers thought they had settled some of these questions last December, when they passed an antitorture amendment by broad majorities in Congress. But in his signing statement, President Bush claimed executive powers to exempt members of his administration from the amendment, should circumstances warrant.

Ever since, Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona and others have sought clarification on what, exactly, the Bush administration had ruled inbounds for detainee treatment.

President Bush says that "tough" alternative interrogation techniques are needed and have been useful, but won't disclose what they include. In a speech on Sept. 6, the president confirmed the existence of secret CIA detention facilities, but said that the "alternative set of [interrogation] procedures" used in these prisons was in compliance with the US law.

The White House and the GOP senators are now trying to find a compromise.

"We're having a very constructive and productive dialogue with senior officials at the White House," says Sen. John Warner (R) of Virginia, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Progress is being made in good faith."

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