U.S. House rejects immunity in wiretap measure

  • Updated: March 14, 2008 - 11:01 PM

After its first secret session in a quarter-century, the House on Friday rejected retroactive immunity for the phone companies that took part in the National Security Agency's warrantless eavesdropping program after the Sept. 11 attacks, and it voted to place greater restrictions on the government's wiretapping powers.

What it means: The decision, on a largely party-line vote of 221-188, is one of the few times when Democrats have been willing to buck the White House on a national security issue.

It also ensures that the months-long battle over the government's wiretapping powers will drag on for at least a few more weeks and possibly much longer.

What's next: The question now moves to the Senate, where lawmakers passed a bill last month that was much more to the liking of the White House, including giving legal immunity to the phone providers that helped in the wiretapping program.

Details of House bill: It includes three key elements: it would refuse retroactive immunity to the phone companies, providing special authority instead for the courts to decide the liability issue; it would add additional judicial restrictions on the government's wiretapping powers while plugging certain loopholes in foreign coverage; and it would create a congressional commission to investigate the NSA program.

How the Minnesota delegation voted: The delegation also voted largely along party line. Voting to approve the measure were Democratic Reps. Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum, Collin Peterson and Tim Walz. Jim Oberstar did not vote. Voting against it were Republicans Reps Michele Bachmann, John Kline and Jim Ramstad.

What are its prospects? Even if the House bill were to gain approval by the Senate -- a prospect that appears unlikely -- a presidential veto appears certain. The margin by which the House vote was approved was far short of the two-thirds needed to override a veto.

TOP AL-QAIDA LEADER DETAINED FOR MONTHS

The latest: The CIA secretly detained a senior Al-Qaida suspect for at least six months beginning last summer as part of an agency program that President Bush has authorized to use a slate of harsh interrogation techniques, CIA Director Michael Hayden told agency employees in a memo on Friday.

What it means: Muhammed Rahim, suspected of helping Osama bin Laden escape from Afghanistan in 2001, is the first Al-Qaida prisoner in nearly a year who intelligence officials acknowledge has been in CIA detention.

What he's known for: Hayden said Rahim helped arrange the Al-Qaida hide-out at Tora Bora -- a mountain area Bin Laden used during the 2001 U.S. invasion. "In 2001, as the terrorist haven in Afghanistan was collapsing, Rahim helped prepare Tora Bora as a hide-out," Hayden said. "When Al-Qaida had to flee from there, Rahim was part of that operation, too."

Rahim is perhaps best known in counterterror circles as a translator for Bin Laden and other Al-Qaida leaders, Hayden said.

His status: Rahim was captured last summer in Lahore, Pakistan, a diplomatic official said. He is now held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Hayden said.

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