While most eyes in Washington were focused yesterday on the White House healthcare summit, congressional Democrats tried to use the opportunity to slip an amendment past their colleagues into the House intelligence authorization bill, providing for the criminal prosecution of intelligence officers who employ certain specified interrogation techniques.
With no hearings or public debate, Intelligence Committee Chairman Sylvester Reyes included a provision sponsored by Rep. Jim McDermott called the “Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Interrogations Prohibition Act of 2010” in the intelligence bill, which would have banned a raft of poorly-defined interrogation techniques (including waterboarding) and specified prison sentences starting at a minimum of 15 years for intelligence officials who use them. His efforts met with instant opposition from congressional Republicans, led by Rep. Pete Hoekstra, and apparently faced opposition from the Obama administration as well. By late Thursday night the intelligence bill had been pulled.
The episode holds a few lessons: First, it is an acknowledgement by congressional Democrats that the Bush administration was right when it found that waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques were not illegal under existing U.S. laws—if they were already illegal, there would be no need to pass legislation making them illegal today.
Second, it is telling that Democrats felt they had to try to slip this provision into the intelligence bill in secret, while the whole city was otherwise occupied. The bill had no review in the intelligence committee, and the CIA was given no opportunity to examine the legislation or present its views. This shows that Democrats realize most Americans disagree with them on the question of terrorist interrogation, or else they would have no problem with open debate.
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