CIA interrogation bill passes House

Measure preventing waterboarding must pass Senate

White House veto is likely

December 14, 2007|By McClatchy-Tribune

WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives voted yesterday to prevent the CIA from using waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods that already are banned from use by the U.S. military.

The bill, which would fund and set policies for U.S. intelligence agencies, passed 222-199. It now goes to the Senate, where it faces strong Republican opposition.

Even if the Senate approves the bill, the White House said in a statement that the president's advisers recommend that he veto it. The White House objects to the interrogation provision and other sections that would increase congressional oversight.

The legislation would require the CIA and other intelligence agencies to use only interrogation techniques authorized for the military in the United States Army Field Manual on Human Intelligence Collector Operations.

U.S. law and the 1949 Geneva Convention on treatment of prisoners of war ban torture and cruel treatment. President Bush said in a July executive order that the CIA's secret detention and interrogation system complied with the law. But his order didn't specify whether intelligence agencies could use waterboarding and other measures banned by the Army manual.

Waterboarding involves holding a person down and pouring water into his nose or mouth until he feels as if he's drowning. The CIA reportedly employed it against terrorist suspects.

Other torture tactics the legislation would ban include forced nudity, beatings, electric shock and putting hoods over captives' heads or duct tape over their eyes.

"This would mean no more torture and no more questions about what the CIA is allowed to do behind closed doors," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat. She quoted the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, in a May 10 memo that said that the interrogation methods the manual authorizes are effective.

Republicans argued that terrorists could use the Army manual, which is available on the Internet, to train to resist interrogation.

"Having gone through this training myself in the Air Force, it can be very effective," said Rep. Heather Wilson, a New Mexico Republican and Air Force veteran. "I don't think we should give our manuals to al-Qaida."

Rep. Peter Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican, who, like Wilson and Schakowsky, serves on the House Intelligence Committee, said that terrorist suspects "are not normal enemy combatants," adding: "They don't wear a uniform. We shouldn't be applying military rules to the intelligence community."

Elisa Massimino, the Washington director of the advocacy group Human Rights First, said in a statement that the House vote was "an important step toward reining in the wink-and-nod policy of torture that has undermined U.S. intelligence capabilities and damaged the reputation of this nation."

"The world no longer knows what the United States means when it says `We do not torture' and `We treat prisoners humanely,' because this administration's policies have drained those words of their meaning," Massimino added.

The House vote was on a House-Senate compromise version of the legislation. The Senate also must approve it.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will schedule a vote next week before the Christmas recess if he can get Republicans to agree, said Reid spokesman Jim Manley. Senate Republicans didn't announce their plans.

The Senate is split 49-49 with two independents who usually vote with Democrats. Senate Republicans have supported Bush to sustain his war policies. Under Senate rules, 60 votes are needed to pass almost anything controversial.

Sen. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, opposes the interrogation provision and has called the system of CIA interrogations "an important tool in our efforts to fight terror."

The White House statement on a veto recommendation said that these interrogations have "helped the United States disrupt multiple attacks against Americans at home and abroad, thus saving American lives."

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