The resulting legislation, if passed next week by Congress as Republicans hope, would revive the CIA's terrorist interrogation program because it would reduce the risk that agency workers could be found guilty of war crimes.
Appearing on CBS News' Face the Nation Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the new agreement could mean that "water boarding and other extreme measures, such as extreme deprivation, sleep deprivation, hypothermia and others, would be not allowed."
Yet the deal also could open the door to aggressive techniques that test the bounds of international standards of prisoner treatment.
"The key to this deal will be whether Congress exercises real oversight over the CIA interrogation program," said California Rep. Jane Harman, who as the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee has been briefed on how the CIA handles terrorism suspects.
The GOP bill outlines specific war crimes such as torture and rape, but it also says the president can "interpret the meaning and application" of the Geneva Convention standards to less severe interrogation procedures. Such a provision is intended to allow him to authorize methods that might otherwise be seen as illegal by international courts.
"If we disagree with the interpretation, the fact is that those interpretations have to be published in the Federal Register. That's a document that's available to all Americans, including the press," McCain said. "And we in Congress — and the judiciary, if challenged — have the ability, then, to examine that interpretation and act legislatively. These are regulations the president would issue. We would be passing laws which trump regulations."
Mr. Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said the president plans to use this authority to "clarify" Geneva Convention obligations by executive order, which must be published in the Federal Register
Harman said Friday she wants the administration to give Congress a list of techniques approved by the president and legal justification for the methods.
"If Congress does not demand this information, we will be giving the president another blank check to violate the law," she said.