February 26th, 2010
02:35 PM ET
13 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. Pete East

    AFSOC D1,

    I believe we have gotten useful information. I am also aware that a good deal of that information would classified for security reasons, so the public would not know of it.

    February 26, 2010 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  2. C. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    Watch carefully for the "trade off", there's always one.

    February 26, 2010 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |

    Democrats please start standing up for what you believe in instead of backing down on everything. My goodness do you guys fight for anything or are you just worried about the next election.

    February 26, 2010 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  4. Chad

    This is a joke. What's deplorable is not holding people accountable for torturing other human beings. Are we cavemen?

    February 26, 2010 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  5. valwayne

    How can Democrats keep attacking the heroes who are keeping us safe and assuming they are criminals while they make celebrities out of the mudering terrorists, give them Constitutional rights, and fly their parents to the U.S. first class to try and convince them to talk. When will the insanity end? How many Americans will have to die for Democrats to wake up?

    February 26, 2010 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  6. Rob Johnson

    Between this and the Patriot Act, sometimes I wonder if the terrorists have already won. Remember, Bush himself said that if we changed our way of life in response to 9/11, then the terrorists would win. One of the few intelligent things he ever said, actually.

    If torturing people and tapping phones without warrants has become acceptable in this country, then we have surely changed our "way of life" and the terrorists have surely won.

    February 26, 2010 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  7. joe

    You Dems are just plain stupid. You morons on this blog who compalin tht that we might use heavy handed tactics would be the first to condone anything if it was you or a family members life at stake. The hypocrisy of you libs make me physcially sick. Do us all a favor and leave the Country. Please just leave

    February 26, 2010 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  8. UpNorthOutWest

    I don't know what's more pathetic, that airheaded Democrats were ready to push ahead with this - 15 years in prison for U.S. intelligence officers who deprive a captured terrorist of SLEEP?! Who's freaking side are you guys on?!– or the twits commenting here who are pouting about it being pulled from the bill.

    February 26, 2010 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  9. John in Tampa

    Since the proposed law is forward looking, rather than retroactive, I take it the people who disapprove of the law ANTICIPATE committing acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. It is one thing to argue what that means, I've no problem with that. It is quite another to want a get-out-of-jail-free card in advance.

    February 26, 2010 06:31 pm at 6:31 pm |
  10. Chris - Denver

    "Democrats back down...." This is becoming a pattern. How did I get into a party of spineless cowards who are afraid to win?

    February 26, 2010 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  11. jules sand-perkins

    This is one of the few really fascinating discussions to appear in this forum.
    I know that I would choose my captured child's survival over his captors' rights. Unlike Sniffit–bravissimo nom de plume–I think that I would not feel remorse.
    While a recommended reading list is being compiled, how about BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL by Nietzsche.

    February 26, 2010 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
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