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Definition of torture gets rewrite

A prisoner doesn't have to undergo excruciating pain to be considered a victim of torture, the Justice Department now says. But it's not clear whether this revised, broader definition of torture will change the treatment of foreign detainees.

The White House says the new Justice Department memo defining torture doesn't reflect a change in policy because the administration has always abided by international laws that prohibit the mistreatment of detainees.

And critics of the administration, while welcoming the memo, dated Thursday, say policies that seemed to condone abuse of prisoners in Iraq or Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have already done their damage.

The memo's biggest impact could be on next week's Senate confirmation hearings for chief White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, who was nominated by President Bush to replace John Ashcroft as attorney general.

Gonzales and other administration lawyers wrote memos that said the president's wartime powers superseded antitorture laws and treaties. Human rights advocates say those memos effectively condoned abuse and set the stage for the mistreatment of inmates at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay.

The Justice Department in June specifically disavowed an August 2002 memo to Gonzales that said cruel, inhumane and degrading acts may not be considered torture if they don't produce intense pain and suffering.

That memo was replaced by Thursday's memo from Daniel Levin, acting chief of the Office of Legal Counsel. It opens by bluntly stating: "Torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international law."

Social Security blitz to be privately funded

WASHINGTON _ President Bush's political allies are raising millions of dollars for an election-style campaign to promote private Social Security accounts, in what is predicted to be the most expensive and extensive public policy debate since the 1993 fight over the Clinton administration's failed health care plan.

With Bush planning to unveil the details of his Social Security plan this month, several GOP groups close to the White House are asking the same donors who helped re-elect Bush to fund an extensive campaign to convince Americans _ and skeptical lawmakers _ that Social Security is in crisis and that private accounts are the only cure.

"It could easily be a $50-million to $100-million cost to convince people this is legislation that needs to be enacted," said Stephen Moore, head of the conservative Club for Growth, who has raised $1.5-million.

White House officials, led by Karl Rove and Charles P. Blahous III, are helping to shape the public relations campaign.

California law enforces domestic partners' status

SAN FRANCISCO _ Along with the other gays and lesbians in California, the more-than 52,000 registered domestic partners still can't get married. But starting today, if they split up, they'll have to divorce.

If they have children, they will automatically receive a wide array of parental rights. Community property laws suddenly apply, just as for married spouses.

The changes are part of a law, put on the books by the Legislature and former Gov. Gray Davis in September 2003 but not going into effect until now, that greatly expands California's 5-year-old experiment with domestic partnerships.

The law's supporters and opponents agree it makes domestic partnership in California equivalent to marriage in almost all but name.

That puts the state once again at the forefront of the legal battles over gay unions. Same-sex couples affected by the law vastly outnumber those covered by Vermont's system of civil unions or those who have wed in Massachusetts, the only state that allows gay marriages. In sickness and in health, in separation and in death, California's registered domestic partners now share hundreds of state rights and responsibilities formerly granted only to married spouses.