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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The House Intelligence Committee could not proceed yesterday with a briefing on a plane shot down over Peru because Justice Department officials declined to be sworn in, Politico and The Associated Press reported today.
The officials and panel members were supposed to discuss an internal CIA report on the 2001 incident, which resulted in the deaths of two American missionaries. A U.S. reconnaissance plane used to spot drug traffickers notified Peruvian officials of the Cessna 185, which was shot down by the country’s air force after the aircraft did not identify itself, according to a 2001 CNN report.
The closed-door briefing was supposed to be an informal meeting, which usually does not require an oath to be taken, according to The AP.
DOJ spokesperson Tracy Schmaler told the news wire that DOJ personnel “have previously briefed committee staff on this matter and were prepared to provide a similar informal briefing to committee members.”
“We are unaware of any precedent for Department officials providing informal briefings to be placed under oath,” she told The AP.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the ranking member of the panel, criticized the Attorney General for his staffers’ refusals to testify under oath.
“Why is Attorney General Eric Holder afraid of having Justice Department employees be required to tell the truth?” Hoekstra told The AP. He added that it is part of a “disturbing pattern that has emerged of the Obama administration refusing or finding reasons to refuse to share information with Congress.”
The House and Senate are working on bills that would force the White House to give more disclosures on intelligence information. President Obama has threatened a veto on this legislation if it approved by Congress, according to The AP.