House Democrats on Tuesday failed to overturn President Bush's veto of a bill that would have prohibited the CIA from using waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques on terrorist suspects.
The vetoed legislation would have limited the CIA to using only the 19 interrogation methods approved in the Army field manual. That guidebook bans the use of waterboarding, a technique that simulates drowning. CIA Director Michael Hayden has confirmed that the spy agency used the technique on three terrorist suspects in 2002 and 2003.
The 225-188 House roll call was 51 votes short of the two-thirds majority required to overturn a veto. Bush has vetoed seven bills during his tenure, and only once has Congress mustered the votes to override his veto.
The interrogation limits are part of a bill authorizing intelligence spending for 2008. Bush vetoed it on Saturday. It is the first intelligence authorization bill produced by Congress in three years.
White House press secretary Dana Perino hailed the House vote, saying a successful override "would have diminished the intelligence community's ability to protect our nation."
"By requiring the intelligence community to use only the interrogation methods authorized in the publicly-available Army field manual, 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," Perino said. "The CIA program has produced critical intelligence and helped us prevent a number of attacks."
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, attempted to frame the vote as a human rights referendum. "This is about torture," he said, a refrain repeated by other Democrats who spoke in support of the override.
Republicans portrayed their support for Bush's veto as a stand against a bill they say is riddled with pork-barrel projects like a National Drug Intelligence Center and a study of the national security implications of global warming.
"This is an ill-advised bill," said Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. He likened the bill to giving al-Qaida terrorists the American "playbook" on interrogation.
"What are the priorities of this House? How are we going to keep America safe?" he said.
When he vetoed the bill, Bush said his action was not specifically about waterboarding but about wanting the CIA to have the flexibility to use legal and effective interrogation methods that are not listed in the Army field manual.
"I cannot sign into law a bill that would prevent me, and future presidents, from authorizing the CIA to conduct a separate, lawful intelligence program, and from taking all lawful actions necessary to protect Americans from attack," the president said.
Nevertheless, Bush said the attorney general has deemed waterboarding legal under domestic and international law.
Hayden has prohibited the CIA from using waterboarding since 2006, but it remains a possibility in future interrogations. It can be approved for use on a case-by-case basis by the president and attorney general.