He also signed a bill on Friday that bans cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners, despite initial resistance to both measures.

 

The United States has been criticised for its handling of prisoners after the abuse scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, harsh interrogations at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and reports of secret CIA prisons overseas for terror suspects.

 

The provision on the treatment of detainees was included in a defence spending bill.

 

Bush had initially threatened to veto legislation that contained that measure but backed off after congressional votes showed overwhelming support for the amendment pushed by Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican who was a former prisoner of war in the Vietnam war.

 

Bush said in a statement: "US law and policy already prohibit torture. Our policy has also been not to use cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, at home or abroad.

 

"This legislation now makes that a matter of statute for practices abroad."

 

Detention challenge

 

In a concession to the White House, the bill curbs the ability of inmates at Guantanamo to challenge their detention in federal court.

 

"Our policy has also been not to use cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, at home or abroad"

George Bush,
US president

Bush said: "I also appreciate the legislation's elimination of the hundreds of claims brought by terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that challenge many different aspects of their detention and that are now pending in our courts."

 

On the Patriot Act, Bush had strongly pushed for a permanent renewal, but Congress passed a temporary extension to allow more time to consider civil liberties protections.

 

The Patriot Act was a response to the 11 September attacks and expanded the authority of the federal government to conduct secret searches, obtain private records and intercept telephone calls, among other activities, to track down suspected terror cells.

 

Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, said: "Our law enforcement community needs this, he's not satisfied with a one-month extension. But we've got to get that in place, and we've got to work with them to get it permanently re-extended."

 

Infringement of civil liberties

 

The debate over whether some of the provisions infringe too much on civil liberties became more heated after the revelation that Bush authorised the National Security Agency to conduct a domestic eavesdropping operation on Americans with suspected ties to terrorism without seeking court approval.

 

Among the civil protections being debated in Congress are rules for "roving" wiretaps of suspects who use multiple telephones and court orders for records for businesses, libraries, bookstores and personal medical records.

 

Defence spending

 

The Patriot Act extension and defence spending legislation were among several bills signed into law by Bush while on vacation at his Texas ranch.

 

$3.8 billion will be used in prepar-
ation for an avian flu pandemic

The $453.3 billion defence spending bill included $50 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan until Congress acts on another emergency war supplemental next year, which lawmakers expect to be between $80 billion and $100 billion.

 

The defence spending bill also provides $29 billion to rebuild levees, schools, roads and other infrastructure destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

 

And it contains nearly $3.8 billion to begin preparations for a possible avian flu pandemic.

 

Bush also signed into law legislation authorising space exploration programmes for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and a spending bill for the departments of Labour, Health and Human Services, and Education.