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House passes bill to outlaw CIA's use of waterboarding

December 14, 2007|From Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The House approved legislation Thursday that would bar the CIA from using waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics, drawing an immediate veto threat from the White House and setting up another political showdown over what constitutes torture.

The measure, approved by a largely party-line vote of 222 to 199, would require U.S. intelligence agencies to follow Army rules adopted last year that explicitly forbid waterboarding and require interrogators to adhere to a strict interpretation of the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war.

The rules, required by Congress for all Defense Department personnel, also ban sexual humiliation, mock executions and the use of attack dogs, and prohibit the withholding of food and medical care.

The passage of the bill, which must still win Senate approval, fulfills a promise by House Democratic leaders to seek a ban on interrogation practices that have prompted the condemnation of human rights groups and many governments around the world. It comes amid a furor over the CIA's announcement a week ago that in 2005 it destroyed videotapes that showed the use of harsh interrogation tactics on two terrorism suspects.

The White House vowed to veto the measure. Limiting the CIA to interrogation techniques authorized by the Army Field Manual "would prevent the United States from conducting lawful interrogations of senior Al Qaeda terrorists to obtain intelligence needed to protect Americans from attack," the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement.

Key Republicans also opposed the measure. Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the House Intelligence Committee's ranking GOP member, said applying the unclassified Army Field Manual to all interrogations would give terrorist groups full knowledge of U.S. interrogation techniques.

"Too many details on the counter-terrorism programs that have kept America safe since 9/11 have already been illegally leaked," Hoekstra said. "Congress should not be in the business of voluntarily giving Al Qaeda or any of our adversaries our playbook."

The proposed prohibition on waterboarding is part of a House-Senate compromise on the Intelligence Authorization Act, which contains a budget for U.S. intelligence agencies and sets out intelligence priorities.

The sprawling legislation would provide more money for linguists and analysts, require periodic reports on the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea, and establish a new intelligence inspector general empowered to audit the activities of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies.

"With the passage of this bill, the House is back in the business of conducting oversight of the intelligence community," said Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

The CIA declined to comment on the bill's ban on waterboarding, a technique simulating drowning that the agency says it abandoned in 2003.

CIA Director Michael V. Hayden has maintained that the agency's interrogation program has been small -- involving fewer than 100 detainees since 2002 -- and legal. He has also contended that the use of harsh interrogation techniques has provided leads on Al Qaeda's operations and has foiled terrorist plots.

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