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U.S. House passes detainee bill

U.S. President George W. Bush moved closer Wednesday to getting his desired changes in the questioning and prosecuting of terror suspects after a favourable House of Representatives vote.

U.S. President George W. Bush moved closer Wednesday to getting his desired changes in the questioning and prosecuting of terror suspects after a favourable House of Representatives vote.

By 253 to 168, the House approved legislation that would establish a military court system and give Bush final authority over any interrogation techniques.

The bill's fate is critical to both parties, just weeks ahead of what are expected to be hotly contested November congressional elections.

In June, the Supreme Court rejected the government's argument that the widely accepted conventions regarding prisoners of war do not apply to those held at the U.S. naval prison in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, and also found the administration's military commissions to be illegal.

Bush then said he would introduce legislation in Congress to work around the ruling, but Republican senators John McCain, John Warner and Lindsey Graham vowed to fight any attempt to narrowly interpret what constituted abuse of prisoners.

The president also received criticism over the move away from established Geneva Convention standards for handling prisoners from his first-term secretary of state, Colin Powell.

The Senate will vote on a similar piece of legislation as early as Thursday.

Immunity for CIA interrogators

Thebill provides extensive definitions of war crimes such as torture, rape and biological experiments that would not be permitted. But CIA interrogators would be given immunity retroactively from being prosecuted.

The president can approve other techniques U.S. interrogators can legally use.

While detainees would have access through their legal representative to an unclassified summary of evidence against them, their rights would be less than provided by traditional military tribunals.

Republican Dennis Hastert of Illinois said in a statement that Democrats opposing the measure "voted today in favour of more rights for terrorists."

Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California took umbrage at Hastert's charge and said she believed this bill, too, would be rejected by the Supreme Court.

"Speaker Hastert's false and inflammatory rhetoric is yet another desperate attempt to mislead the American people and provoke fear," she said.

Overall, 219 Republicans and 34 Democrats voted for the legislation while 160 Democrats, seven Republicans and one independent voted against it.

With files from the Associated Press