As it debated legislation to reauthorize U.S. intelligence programs, the House Friday morning at the last minute stripped language from a wide-ranging amendment that would have prohibited U.S. intelligence operatives from engaging in cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
The torture prohibition had been included Thursday in a package of amendments offered by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) that was debated on the House floor. The section of the amendment was titled, “Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment in Interrogations Prohibited.”
According to Politico, the language was drafted by liberal Washington Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott, and included in Reyes’ package of amendments at the insistence of Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) .
The torture language drew immediate criticism from key House Republicans and conservative opinion leaders off Capitol Hill. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the ranking minority member of the Intelligence Committee, complained, “Republicans brought this to the attention of the American people, who were rightly outraged that Democrats would try to target those we ask to serve in harm’s way. … The annual intelligence bill should be about protecting and defending our nation, not targeting those we ask to do that deed and giving greater protections to terrorists.”
Before the House voted on the amendment, leaders decided that the provision should be removed, judging that its inclusion could put passage of the entire bill at risk. That required a hurriedly scheduled Rules Committee meeting Thursday evening to approve a rule that modified the Reyes amendment, to take out the torture provision. All of that delayed further action on the amendment, and the bill, until Friday.
When the House finally voted on the Reyes amendment Friday morning, it was on the modified version — sans the torture language, which would have specifically prohibited waterboarding, inducing hypothermia or heat injury, forcing a person to be naked or to perform a sex act, or conducting mock executions. The amendment also would have banned interrogators from forcing a prisoner to maintain stress positions or to desecrate a religious object.
Under the original language U.S. intelligence members could face up to 15 years in prison for committing an act of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or up to life in prison if a detainee died during an interrogation in which such treatment occurred. The amendment also would have applied to medical professionals who take part in interrogations.
The modified Reyes amendment was approved, 246-166, and the House went on to pass the intelligence authorization by a tally of 235-168.
In action on Thursday, the House gave its voice-vote approval to an amendment that would require the inspector general of the intelligence community to review available intelligence to determine if there is any credible evidence of a connection between a foreign entity and the anthrax attacks in the United States in the fall of 2001.
The amendment was sponsored by Rush Holt (D-N.J.) and Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.). Holt said that the FBI, which announced just last week the completion of its lengthy probe into the anthrax attacks, had been too hasty in concluding that a single man – scientist Bruce Ivins — who worked in Frederick, Md., in Bartlett’s congressional district — was responsible.
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Three agencies today announced that the federal government has formally concluded its investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks, according to a Justice Department release. The FBI and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service joined in the announcement.
Over a period of several weeks following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, letters that contained anthrax were mailed to several news media offices and two senators. The attacks were responsible for the deaths of five people and sickening 17 others.
On Friday, representatives of the FBI and DOJ distributed a 92-page investigative summary of the investigation, along with attachments. The summary was delivered to those sickened in the attacks, the relatives of the people killed in the attacks and several congressional committees. The “Amerithrax” investigation was the largest investigation into a bio-weapons attack in U.S. history, according to the release.
Among the items released publicly are the investigative summary, the attachments and roughly 2,700 pages of FBI documents. According to the Justice Department release, “as disclosed previously, the Amerithrax investigation found that the late Dr. Bruce Ivins acted alone in planning and executing these attacks.” Ivins, a senior biodefense researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md., committed suicide on July 29, 2008, less than a week before the FBI declared him to have been the sole perpetrator of the attacks. That assertion has not satisfied a number of critics of the investigation, however.
The investigative summary was drafted by the Amerithrax Task Force which was comprised of roughly 25 to 30 investigators from the FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, other law enforcement agencies, federal prosecutors from the District of Columbia and DOJ’s Counterterrorism Section. During the investigation, more than 10,000 witnesses on six different continents were interviewed, 80 searches were conducted, more than 6,000 items of potential evidence were collected, more than 5,750 grand jury subpoenas were issued and 5,730 environmental samples were taken from 60 sites, according to the DOJ release.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated Ivins committed suicide a week after the FBI declared him to have been the sole perpetrator of the attacks.