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Senate votes to bar detainee lawsuits

WASHINGTON — The Senate voted Thursday to bar foreign terror suspects at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, from filing lawsuits in American courts to challenge their detentions, despite a Supreme Court ruling last year that granted such access.

In a 49-42 vote, senators added the provision by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to a sweeping defense policy bill. Utah senators Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett both voted for the measure.

Under the provision, Guantanamo Bay detainees would be allowed to appeal their status as an "enemy combatant" one time, to the Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. But they would not be able to file petitions known as writs of habeas corpus, which are used to fight unlawful detentions, in that or any other U.S. court.

"For 200 years, ladies and gentlemen, in the law of armed conflict, no nation has given an enemy combatant, a terrorist, an al-Qaida member the ability to go into every federal court in this United States and sue the people that are fighting the war for us," Graham told his colleagues.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said the provision was a major mistake and deserved scrutiny. "It's contrary to the way the court decisions have come down already. It is an extraordinary step for this Congress to be taking," he said.

Democrats indicated they may try to kill or change the provision before the Senate votes on the overall bill next week. Five Democrats sided with 44 Republicans in voting for the provision.

In a separate war matter, the Senate voted 82-9 to require National Intelligence Director John Negroponte to provide the Senate and House intelligence committees with details of any clandestine facilities where the United States holds or has held terrorism suspects.

That was a reaction to a Washington Post story from Nov. 2 that said the CIA has had secret prisons for terror detainees in eight countries, including democracies in Eastern Europe. The Bush administration has refused to confirm whether the prisons exist. The Senate hopes to complete work next week on the overall bill. It already includes provisions barring abusive treatment of foreign prisoners and standardizing interrogation techniques. Those provisions also are in the separate $445 billion military spending bill the Senate passed last month.