Ending Torture: CIA Tapes Spur House Action

The House of Representatives passes comprehensive torture ban after CIA tape scandal. The Senate must follow swiftly, writes Mark Agrast.

As Congress and the Justice Department undertake investigations into the destruction of videotapes of CIA interrogations, the House of Representatives today voted to put an end to the practices which those tapes depict. Now it’s time for the Senate to act.

In fact, it’s well past time. In 2005, Congress responded to the international outcry over the use of torture by U.S. personnel by enacting the Detainee Treatment Act. That legislation provided that “No person in the custody or under the effective control of the Department of Defense or under detention in a Department of Defense facility shall be subject to any treatment or technique of interrogation not authorized by and listed in the United States Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation.”

It was hoped that this overwhelming, bipartisan expression of the will of Congress would be sufficient to prevent the further use of what administration officials euphemistically refer to as “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The Bush administration, however, has refused to renounce the use of these measures against persons who are “in the custody or under the effective control,” not of the Department of Defense, but of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Senior military commanders—including General David Petraeus, the Army’s chief interrogator, and the top legal officers of the four military services—have repeatedly stated that these inhumane techniques are both illegal and ineffective in eliciting reliable intelligence. Yet the Bush administration continues to claim otherwise.

The use of such barbaric practices by persons acting in the name of the United States is inconsistent with our nation’s core values and its international obligations. It diminishes America’s moral authority, compromises diplomatic efforts, and undermines norms of civilized conduct that protect U.S. service members who are captured in the field.

Today the House of Representatives voted 222-199 to approve the House-Senate conference agreement on H.R. 2082, the Intelligence Authorization bill for FY2008. That report includes a provision (section 327) which would close the CIA loophole by providing that “No individual in the custody or under the effective control of an element of the intelligence community or instrumentality thereof, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to any treatment or technique of interrogation not authorized by” the Army Field Manual.

This provision must still clear the Senate and survive a promised presidential veto. But if it becomes law, it will give clear and unambiguous guidance to the intelligence services and reassure Americans and the world that our nation does not condone or engage in lawless and inhumane conduct. In so doing, it will reinforce the standards that the United States did so much to put in place and on which the safety of our own service members—and America itself—depends.

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