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Torture of detainees? No. 'Coercion'? It depends.

New detainee law gives the White House and the CIA most – but not all – of the authority they wanted for interrogations.

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When he signed the new terror legislation into law earlier this week, President Bush said the measure fulfilled his most important requirement – that the Central Intelligence Agency be authorized to continue using aggressive interrogation tactics against Al-Qaeda leaders and operatives.

"This program is one of the most successful intelligence efforts in American history," the president said on Tuesday. "It has helped prevent attacks on our country. And the bill I sign today will ensure that we can continue using this vital tool to protect the American people for years to come."

Despite Mr. Bush's forceful statement, legal and other experts say the new law does not give the White House – and the CIA – the clear and broad authorization the president had requested.

There is room for aggressive interrogators to maneuver, these analysts say, but no green light for such controversial interrogation methods as simulated drowning or prolonged hypothermia.

"It is a kinder, gentler version of the program," says David Rivkin, a lawyer and former official in the administrations of Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush. "The president got a little less than what he originally wanted, but he still got a lot."

What the president won was a congressional endorsement of the concept of using coercive interrogations – provided the techniques are not too extreme.

"This is no longer just George Bush's program," Mr. Rivkin says. "The two political branches have come together and spoken in unison on this."

The Military Commissions Act of 2006 sets rules for war crimes tribunals and establishes procedures for US interrogations of unlawful enemy combatants. In June, the Supreme Court ruled that the US must comply with the basic protections of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions in its treatment of detainees in the war on terror.


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