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Senator: Ban torture but give CIA leeway

Seeking to referee a stalemate over how the CIA can interrogate prisoners, a top Senate Republican says Congress should ban waterboarding and seven other abusive methods of interrogation but allow the spy agency some leeway in how it questions detainees.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Seeking to referee a stalemate over how the CIA can interrogate prisoners, a top Senate Republican says Congress should ban waterboarding and seven other abusive methods of interrogation but allow the spy agency some leeway in how it questions detainees.

Missouri Sen. Kit Bond, the senior Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, outlined his proposal in nonbinding language accompanying a bill that sets out the intelligence community's policies, programs and spending for 2009. An unclassified summary was released Thursday.

Like the 2008 version of the authorization bill — which President Bush vetoed — the 2009 bill restricts the CIA to using only the 19 interrogation techniques approved by the military in the Army Field Manual. Bond said he would seek to attach his proposed compromise to this or other legislation.

Rather than prescribe what the intelligence agency may do in an interrogation, Bond wants to write into law only what the CIA cannot do: force detainees to be naked, perform sexual acts or pose in a sexual manner; have hoods or sacks placed over their heads or duct tape over their eyes; be beaten, shocked or burned; threatened with military dogs; exposed to extreme heat or cold; subjected to mock executions; deprived of food, water or medical care, or be waterboarded.

Waterboarding could be allowed
Waterboarding involves strapping down a prisoner, covering his mouth with plastic or cloth and pouring water over his face. The prisoner quickly begins to inhale water, causing the sensation of drowning. CIA Director Michael Hayden acknowledged this spring that three CIA prisoners were waterboarded in 2002 and 2003. He prohibited the practice by the CIA in 2006, but it still could be used if authorized by the president and the attorney general.

Hayden has opposed the field manual limitation, saying the military list does not include all interrogation techniques that are consistent with U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions, such as sleep deprivation.

The unclassified portion of the new legislation focuses heavily on the CIA's treatment and interrogation of detainees. It prohibits private contractors from participating in interrogations; it requires Red Cross access to all prisoners — an attempt to prevent the holding of secret or "ghost" detainees, and it requires an annual report on compliance with a law banning cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners.

It also requires the administration to turn over to Congress any legal justifications that address detainees. Last month, the Pentagon declassified an 81-page legal opinion from 2003 that outlined the legal basis for military interrogators to use harsh tactics against al-Qaida and Taliban detainees overseas, as long as they did not specifically intend to torture their captives. The memo also said the president's wartime power as commander in chief would not be limited by the U.N. treaties against torture.

Bill would increase oversight
The bill also seeks to increase oversight of intelligence activities by requiring that all members of the House and Senate intelligence committees are either briefed on all programs or are told the topics of briefings being provided solely to committee leaders. Only a handful of members of Congress were told about waterboarding or the so-called warrantless wiretapping program in which Americans' phone and computer lines were wiretapped without the permission of a secret court created 30 years ago to oversee such activities.

The bill also would increase the jail sentence for those convicted of revealing the identity of a covert intelligence agent.

The Senate bill also tries to limit the intelligence agencies' use of private contractors. It says, on average, a private contractor costs $250,000 a year compared with $126,500 for a civilian government employee.

Also on Thursday, the House Intelligence Committee approved its version of the 2009 authorization bill. It requires intelligence agencies to brief the entire committee — not just the leaders — on certain covert operations before the committee will finance them.

The House bill would add money to both electronic intelligence collection and human spying endeavors, though the amounts are classified. The committee said it also approved "a sizable request" for a national computer security monitoring program.

For the second consecutive year, the House prohibited any congressional "earmarks" from being attached to the bill.

It was classified pet spending projects that landed former intelligence committee member Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham in prison for more than eight years.

Cunningham pleaded guilty in 2005 to accepting $2.4 million in bribes from contractors in return for his steering lucrative secret federal contracts to their companies.