February 26th, 2010
02:35 PM ET
5 years ago

Democrats back down on controversial interrogation proposal

Washington (CNN) – House Republicans were still hammering away at Democrats on Friday, one day after pressuring the majority to withdraw a controversial amendment to an intelligence funding bill that would have criminally punished intelligence officers for conducting harsh interrogations.

On the House floor, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, called the provision "deplorable," and said it was symptomatic in how some in Congress and the administration view intelligence officials. "Their reflex action is to blame the intelligence community first," he said.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said he was glad the Democrats decided to take what he called a "lousy" amendment out of the bill, but criticized them for "sneaking" it into the overall money bill without any debate or hearings.

Earlier this week, the House Rules Committee added several amendments to the intelligence funding bill, including an 11-page provision that specifies criminal penalties for "any officer or employee of the intelligence community who, in the course of or in anticipation of a covered interrogation, knowingly commits, attempts to commit, or conspires to commit an act of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment."

The acts defined in the amendment include beatings, electric shock, waterboarding, deprivation of food, water or sleep and violations of the suspects religious beliefs. The intelligence officers would face up to 15 years in prison or life behind bars if the detainee dies.

When Republicans discovered the amendment Thursday during floor debate on the overall bill, they went on the offense.

Thornberry said it was a "topsy-turvy land where we forget who the good guys are, who are trying to keep us safe, and who the bad guys are."

Rep. Michael Rogers, R-Michigan, said the amendment is too vague, failing to define such things as what constitutes lack of sleep or an infringement on religious beliefs. He maintained that it "will absolutely freeze the intelligence community's ability to go out and get information that they need."

Hoekstra said the provision would create new criminal statutes and repeatedly asked Democrats to explain the rationale for the amendment. Only two responded.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, Illinois said the amendment simply "reiterates existing law on torture and provides statutory criminal penalties." Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, agreed, arguing that the provision "simply says, follow the rules, follow the law."

Their, however, explanations did not jibe with the congressman who authored the amendment. After the provision was pulled, Jim McDermott, D-Washington, explained that his amendment "would have expanded upon the president's Executive Order to clearly define what constitutes cruel, inhuman or degrading interrogation so that it is unmistakable what kinds of techniques are unacceptable."

So why did the Democrats decide to strike the amendment? Reyes said it was done because the Republicans had "some mis-impressions" of what the amendment was intended to do. His Republican counterpart saw it differently. Hoekstra said the Democrats did not have enough votes within their own party to pass the bill.


Filed under: Homeland Security • Terrorism
soundoff (61 Responses)
  1. Sniffit

    "This shows the Democrats still do not get it that sneaky, backroom, closed door dealings will not be tolerated any more."

    I think what you meant to say was "This shows the Democrats still do not get it that sneaky, backroom, closed door dealings will not be tolerated until the GOP is back in control again." I mean, it's all well documented...sneaky, underhanded, backroom shenanigans was precisely how the GOP ran the Congress and the WH from 2000-2007 and even before that.

    February 26, 2010 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  2. John, Brooklyn, NY

    Its unfortunate that the Republicans find it necessary to exempt intelligence officials from actually having to comply with international standards of behavior that the US is obliged to maintain by treaty!

    February 26, 2010 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  3. Grog in Ohio

    Oh yeah... by all means, we MUST keep legal cover for torturers and their enablers!!

    How much more disgusting can Republicans get?

    February 26, 2010 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  4. Glenn Koons

    In my 71 years, the liberal Dems have never never supported American foreign policy unless it dithered , unless it wussed out against the Soviets, the Chi-Coms, the Viet Cong, and other enemies of America. It was always turning on our military and allowed Hollywood to portray any Intel agencies as conspiracies with evil from America outweighing any foreign enemy. They have done it now with the war against Islamofascist terrorists. They should clone Jack Bauer for themselves. Or read Alex Berenson, Vince Flynn, Brad Thor instead of their socialist heroes. The hell with the Islamofascists and their lawyering up. Torture is Dr. Mengele , the Soviets, the Nazis, but boy howdy, to the Left, water boarding these merciless killers is torture. Real torture is evil and if people do it like the Nazis, the Islamos themselves, they that is not acceptable. But, what the CIA and NSA does to these killers does not resemble torture of old.

    February 26, 2010 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  5. AFSOC D1

    Taterwheel: Imagine your child is held captive by a violent criminal and you have his accomplice. Please tell us what you would do to get him to tell you where your child is. Is there anything you wouldn't do? You can hate me all you want, but there is nothing I would not do. Nothing.

    Pete East: What makes you think we haven't gotten useful information? The fact that you haven't heard about it from the press or read about it in a blog?

    February 26, 2010 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  6. Sniffit

    "Democrats and Liberals are more interested in punishing those who try to protect us than punishing those who try to kill us."

    Are you retarded? Seriously, because that was a retarded statement. If someone tortures a prisoner, they SHOULD be punished. It goes against every ideal upon which this country was founded to behave in that manner, and by doing so renders moot and meanindless all the service and deaths of our soldiers overseas who are supposedly over there fighting to defend our way of life and our beliefs. "Here, take this gun and go die defending our beliefs while I abandon them here at home." And you know what? When an intelligence officer gets punished for toturing someone, they would be afforded a fair trial, representation and all the accoutrements of the due process we claim is a fundamental human right but denied the priosoners of Gitmo and elsewhere who we tortured and punished before giving them due process.

    February 26, 2010 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  7. Mark L.

    Okay, okay, so our Democratic Party bowed down on this one....So long as THEY DO NOT BOW DOWN on the HealthCare Reform Bill...I said it once, and I'll say it again – RECONCILIATION, All the Way...WE NEED HEALTHCARE REFORM LEGISLATION PASSED and WE NEED IT NOW !!

    February 26, 2010 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  8. JStrnad

    The Republicans ought to add "Pro-torture" to the party platform. It's shameful that they would come out against an amendment holding people accountable for breaking the laws against torture, and shameful to the spineless Democrats who let the minority party bully them into withdrawing the amendment.

    And FYI...yeah, NOT using torture results in more and better intel than torture does. People will say ANYTHING while being tortured, and then we waste time and lives pursuing false leads. Being strong doesn't mean being a bully, plus...torture doesn't work. Wise up.

    February 26, 2010 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  9. Matt

    No wonder Obama and the Democrats can't get anything done.
    They have no spine.

    February 26, 2010 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  10. Sniffit

    "Taterwheel: Imagine your child is held captive by a violent criminal and you have his accomplice. Please tell us what you would do to get him to tell you where your child is. Is there anything you wouldn't do? You can hate me all you want, but there is nothing I would not do. Nothing."

    Circular logic, but I'll bite. There's not a single thing I wouldn't do...I admit it. But there is something I'd do that you wouldn't.

    Feel remorse.

    February 26, 2010 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  11. JStrnad

    And please, can we stop legitimizing reprehensible behavior by pointing to TV shows as examples? I love 24, too, but get real...it's fiction bordering on fantasy.

    Now excuse me...a terrorist was just spotted leaving a mall and I need to use my cell phone to reposition the spy satellite, get a grainy photo of his face from outer space, enhance those two pixels into a high-def image, computer-match his face to our database of known terrorists, check against all recent surveillance video to find him and his cohorts and get to them before they explode a nuclear device.

    February 26, 2010 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  12. Sniffit

    "Pete East: What makes you think we haven't gotten useful information? The fact that you haven't heard about it from the press or read about it in a blog?"

    What makes you think we have gotten useful info? Just because Cheneybot says so (but hasn't provided any of it or shown how it turned out to be useful)? Cheneybot is a proven liar and over half of the people we captured and shipped off to Gitmo for "enhanced interrogation" were released because they had nothing to do with terrorism. Grow the hell up and start thinking critically or it might be you who ends up being waterboarded some day...all because you didn't value basic human rights enough to defend them.

    February 26, 2010 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  13. Dean

    There's no accountability for any actions by government. Leave the pawns alone go after Cheney and Bush

    February 26, 2010 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  14. gt

    what is wrong with these democtats... do they want to loose every election.. i pray for a independent party with no ties to the past...

    February 26, 2010 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  15. A keen observer

    Republicans love to shred the Constitution. Why do they hate the United States so much?

    February 26, 2010 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  16. WB the Congress

    Congress should be WB'ed for proposing this mess.

    February 26, 2010 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  17. Wil

    From my understanding, someone has to be held accountable. I have been in the military for many years. Under military law, an officer or NCO told me to do it is not a credible excuse to do something that you know is morally wrong or against the law. The individual that followed that order and gave that order would be punished. So why doesn't the same treatment goes for the intelligence community? Either the leaders and/or followers have to be held accountible.

    February 26, 2010 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  18. Marc

    liberal wing nut – February 26th, 2010 3:01 pm ET
    'Only a liberal dirt bag would try to punish our intelligence community for doing their job.'

    If that means that us, liberals, like to think that the laws applies on EVERYBODY and there's no 'pre-determined special exception', then what that makes of you 'conservatives something-that-my-grandma-would-make-me-wash-my-mouth-for-saying-it'?

    February 26, 2010 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  19. ib

    The democrats keep setting us up for another attack on our soil. Keep it up demos and it will happen sooner than later.

    February 26, 2010 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  20. Marc

    Glenn Koons – February 26th, 2010 3:54 pm ET
    'Real torture is evil and if people do it like the Nazis, the Islamos themselves, they that is not acceptable. But, what the CIA and NSA does to these killers does not resemble torture of old.'
    Read the article and then tell us that what the Democrats tried to prevent the intelligence of doing is not 'real torture'...

    AFSOC D1 – February 26th, 2010 3:56 pm ET
    'Taterwheel: Imagine your child is held captive by a violent criminal and you have his accomplice. Please tell us what you would do to get him to tell you where your child is. Is there anything you wouldn't do? You can hate me all you want, but there is nothing I would not do. Nothing.'
    Again the 'Jack Bauer' argument. AFSOC D1, torture was acceptable and used by every country in the past, then people realized that it wasn't reliable. After a while, the tortured person will say ANYTHING (even the most blatant and obvious lie) in order to stop being tortured.
    In the case you presented, would you really trust and believe in the words that came out of the guy you just told us that you would torture?
    The odds of he NOT tell the truth are way bigger than the opposite, but if you want to put the life of your child at stake because of your 'faith in torture' then I pity the child.

    February 26, 2010 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  21. Marc

    Anyone who supports torture against 'terrorists' should watch 'in the Name of the Father', it's a movie from 1993 with Daniel Day Lewis and is based on one of the many shames of the English in their own 'war on terror' against the IRA.
    To put it simple, there's a terrorist strike and 20 people (more or less) are killed. The officers in charge of the investigation are lazybones and, instead of actually going after the terrorists, they grab an Irish and his pals and family and, after some 'persuation' (physical and psycological torture) they force him and the others to sign a confession. And then it's up to the guy to prove that he was framed by the officers that were supposed to protect their country from terrorists.
    It's, sadly, a true story and it seems that, after a while, the officers in charge of such investigations in Northern Ireland were ALL lazybones so many were the cases similar to this one.
    Sure, there are some facts depicted in the movie that actually didn't happened (like the guy and his father ending up in the same prison) but the core of the story, the confession obtained through torture that messed so badly with the life of an innocent man, is true.

    February 26, 2010 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  22. Arthur G Broadhurst

    So the Republicans complained about a law that provided penalties for a person who "commits, attempts to commit, or conspires to commit an act of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" on a prisoner. The Democrats pulled the language from the bill.

    I do not know whether I am angrier at the Republicans for their blindness to the issue that such treatment violates our sense of what is proper conduct, or at the Democrats for once again backing down under pressure and not standing for principle. I conclude that both parties are beyond redemption.

    February 26, 2010 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  23. jeff jackson, alabama

    Fact: Water boarding does not hurt.
    Fact: It will scare the hell out of anybody.
    Fact: It will make you give up information.
    Fact: It will save American lives.
    Fact: Politicians know diddly squat about
    effective interrogations.

    February 26, 2010 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  24. Dumbasrocks [R]s

    AFSOC D1: What makes you think that we HAVE gotten useful information? The fact that you've heard it on FuxNews, or maybe Cheney's unsubstantited ramblings? PUHleeeeese! Mindless fairytales from the right, promulgated by creatures with but a tentative hold on reality.

    Your other fairytale about a child being held captive is just more rightwing deflection. What utter pubescent nonsense. We are talking about national policy, not personal knee-jerk reaction to imagined bad situations. Whatever any one person would do in that situation is a personal choice, that would be followed by consequences according to the LAW. You remeber the LAW don't you?....you neo-morons beat your chests about that subject often enough. And besides, the experts tell us the person who resorts to torture in your fairytale situation is more likely to get his child killed in the end. This merely leads to a conclusion that I've held for sometime now: you rightwingers shouldn't procreate in the first place.

    February 26, 2010 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  25. ChristianHumanist

    AFSOC said "Imagine your child is held captive by a violent criminal and you have his accomplice. Please tell us what you would do to get him to tell you where your child is. Is there anything you wouldn't do? You can hate me all you want, but there is nothing I would not do. Nothing."

    That may be true, and you might do something that violates the law, but that does not excuse you from the consequences of the law. That is the principle of civil disobedience, that there are some circumstances where the evil of one action requires you to take another action that may, at least from your standpoint, be the lesser evil. But the moral principle is that you then accept the consequences of your action, you don't get a free pass.

    My wife and I just debated the issue faced by CIA, MI5 and other intelligence agencies about what do you do when there is a really important situation of such consequences that breaking the law becomes necessary–usually given the name "ticking time bomb" scenario–and we concluded that the agent would have to break the law and hope that he was right and felt strongly enough to be willing to bear the consequences.

    That does not mean that you do not declare some behavior out of bounds and subject to penalties.

    February 26, 2010 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
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