By Joby Warrick and Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, December 14, 2007
The House approved legislation yesterday 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. It also would require interrogators to adhere to a strict interpretation of the Geneva Conventions 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 it destroyed in 2005 videotapes showing 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 (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 counterterrorism 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 an intelligence inspector general 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-Tex.), chairman of the House intelligence committee.
The CIA declined to comment on the bill's ban on waterboarding, an interrogation 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 fully 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.
The House's action yesterday drew praise from human rights groups, which have advocated for years that the CIA and other government agencies follow the military's rules for detentions and interrogations around the world. The Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 made the Army Field Manual applicable to all Defense Department employees, but it left a loophole allowing the CIA to use aggressive techniques barred by that document.
Jennifer Daskal, senior counterterrorism counsel for Human Rights Watch, said the CIA's admission that it had destroyed videotapes of interrogations of high-value suspects is one reason that the legislation is so important.
"It's unlikely the tapes would have been destroyed unless the CIA believed that they showed something that they needed to hide: interrogators engaging in practices that most of the world would consider torture," Daskal said.
Retired Army Gen. Paul J. Kern, a lead investigator of the abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, said he thinks that having two sets of standards for interrogation -- one for the CIA and another for the military -- has created problems of credibility and accountability. Kern, who signed a letter along with 27 other retired general officers asking the intelligence committees to hold the CIA to the military's rules, endorsed the standards set by the military.
"We ought to have one set of standards, period," Kern said.
Other provisions of the intelligence bill also drew criticism from the White House, including a measure that would require regular reports to Congress on the CIA's detention and interrogation methods, and on any Justice Department legal justifications for those methods.
This provision, the OMB said, would require from the president "information that may be constitutionally protected from disclosure," which, if made public, "could impair foreign relations [and] national security."
A new requirement that the administration provide an inventory of "Special Access Programs," which involve "the most sensitive information in the intelligence community," also drew an objection. Instead, the OMB statement offered briefings in a form to be established by the executive branch.
Staff writer Josh White contributed to this report.