WASHINGTON — Virginia Democratic Senate candidate Jim Webb said Sunday that President Bush's terror-detainee legislation would weaken the Geneva Conventions and potentially subject captured U.S. soldiers to torture.
"We have to stay on the moral high ground," Webb said during a debate with his opponent, Republican Sen. George Allen, on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Allen said he has not decided whether to back Bush's plan to detain, question and prosecute suspected terrorists or another measure supported by Republican Sen. John Warner, Virginia's senior senator.
The president's measure would allow classified evidence to be withheld from defendants in terror trials and use coerced testimony.
The legislation also would revise the law that interprets the nation's obligations under the Geneva Conventions, the treaty that sets the standard for treatment of war prisoners, so that harsh interrogations of detainees would not be questioned in court.
The Senate bill requires a judge to dismiss charges if evidence cannot be shared and excludes any testimony obtained by cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
"I don't want to stop these interrogations. I'm not for torture, I'm not for waterboarding. But some of these techniques have been very helpful to us, whether they are sleep deprivation or whether it's loud music," Allen said.
"I need to be absolutely certain that what the interrogators are doing now — which is completely fine as far as I'm concerned — will not be harmed," Allen said.
Allen needs more facts
Allen, who last year voted with the White House 96 percent of the time, said he needs more facts before making a decision and hopes to be "a bridge" between the rival GOP plans.
Webb said he sided with fellow war veterans — Warner, Republican Sen. John McCain and former secretary of state Colin Powell — on the issue.
Powell put himself at odds with Bush last week when he wrote in a letter to McCain: "The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism."
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In siding with his fellow combat veterans, Webb, a decorated Marine veteran of the Vietnam War, sharpened their differences with Allen, who has no military experience, and Bush, who served stateside in the National Guard during Vietnam.
"What you see here is a split between the theorists who have never been on a battlefield or never worn the uniform" and those who have, Webb told host Tim Russert.
Russert asked Webb about a 1979 Washingtonian magazine article, in which Webb wrote that women can't lead men in battle, and criticism from five female Naval Academy graduates who blasted Webb for it at an Allen-sponsored news conference last week.
View on women in service
Though Webb had issued a statement expressing regret, one of the women, Kathleen Murray, said it fell short of an apology. Russert asked Webb if a fuller apology was in order.
"I don't think it was wrong to participate in the debate at that time. It's been 27 years, it was a magazine article, and, if I may say, I am fully comfortable with the roles of women in the military today," Webb said.
Russert pressed Allen on why last month he called a Webb campaign volunteer of Indian descent "Macaca," considered a racist slight in some cultures.
"Tim, I made a mistake. I said things thoughtlessly. I've apologized for it, as well I should. But there was no racial or ethnic intent to slur anyone," Allen said.
When asked about his fondness for Confederate flags and other Old South icons, Allen said, "There are a lot of things I wish I had learned earlier in life."
"The Confederate flag — as a kid, I was rebellious, antiestablishment, I still am. And I looked at the flag as a symbol of that."
Allen and Webb meet again Monday for a luncheon debate before the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.
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