WASHINGTON — House Democrats failed Tuesday to override President Bush's veto of a ban on waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques, and they castigated the administration for subjecting prisoners to torture in the fight against terrorism.
"We are on stronger ground ethically and morally . . . when we do not torture," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said in closing the debate. "Our ability to lead the world depends not only on our military might but on our moral authority." The vote to overturn the veto, which required a two-thirds majority, fell short, 225-188.
The bill Bush vetoed authorized money for intelligence agencies and included a provision to limit the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies to tactics allowed by the Army manual used by military interrogators. The manual outlaws eight techniques, including waterboarding, a method that simulates drowning and is widely considered torture.
"Torture is no proper tool in the arsenal of democracy," said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) "If we abandon our American values, we lose who we are as Americans. . . . And if the administration and all of its apologists . . . continue to force America to abandon our values, we will lose the war." Torture, he said, "is not only un-American, it is ineffective."
Republicans trumpeted their own causes, criticizing Pelosi for not bringing up a bill that would overhaul the nation's electronic surveillance practices. House Democrats object to the president's demand that the bill include a provision to give legal immunity to telecommunications companies that cooperated with U.S. monitoring of suspected terrorists. "We are putting our homeland at greater risk," said Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.). "For 30 days we have been avoiding dealing with the tough issue." Noting that waterboarding has not been used for five years, Hoekstra denounced the delay in "doing what is necessary in giving the tools to the intelligence community to keep us safe."
Republicans also criticized Democrats for 26 earmarks in the bill, which Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) called "spy pork."
The Bush administration has opposed taking any interrogation options off the table, saying that to do so would rob U.S. investigators of important tools. In a statement after the vote, Press Secretary Dana Perino said, "The bill would have eliminated the legal alternative procedures in place in the CIA program to question the world's most dangerous and violent terrorists."
In his veto message Saturday, Bush said: "The fact that we have not been attacked over the past 6 1/2 years is not a matter of chance. It is the result of good policies and the determined efforts of individuals carrying them out."
Democrats noted in the debate that Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has parted company with the White House over the use of waterboarding. McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam and an outspoken opponent of torture, voted against the ban because he said it would hamper interrogators. But he reiterated his specific opposition to waterboarding as "illegal."
With Democratic Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York also opposed to waterboarding, Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill.) announced during the debate that "all the candidates are against waterboarding. In January, that will be over." With that assurance, he said, House leaders should then let the surveillance bill come to the floor.