A national bill that would regulate treatment of detainees is now making its way through Congress, as CIA officials this week admitted to using “enhanced interrogation” techniques in the past.
Section 327 of the 2008 Intelligence Authorization Act would prohibit all U.S. intelligence agencies and contractors – including the CIA – from using interrogation methods that aren’t authorized in the Army Field Manual on Interrogation, a 177-page document that spells out acceptable detainee treatment and interrogation techniques.
The bill, including Section 327, was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in December, and the Senate is expected to vote on it in coming weeks.
Supporters say the bill would restrict the use of “enhanced interrogation” techniques like waterboarding.
This comes at a time when congressional attention is focused on U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s refusals to condemn the “enhanced interrogation” technique of waterboarding, which human rights advocates call torture.
Leroy Coleman, press secretary for Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., said Monday that the senator will join other Republicans in opposing the amendment, which human rights advocates call an “anti-torture amendment.”
Leroy Coleman said Sen. Coleman believes waterboarding is a form of torture, but is concerned about the broader implications of applying U.S. Army standards to the CIA.
“The Army Field Manual is designed for very different circumstances and objectives than those of the CIA,” Leroy Coleman said.
Holly Ziemer, director of communications for Minnesota-based Center for Victims of Torture, said the manual was written by military interrogators with years of experience working in times of crisis.
“The manual is very clear that torture is not an effective means of gaining what the military calls ‘actionable information,’ ” Ziemer said.
“Military interrogators, FBI interrogators, even CIA staff have said this is just not an effective way of protecting and securing the nation,” she said.
In a December statement following House approval of the bill, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the bill would undermine the CIA’s ability to gather information in the war on terror, and that current CIA operations fell within the boundaries of law.
Barbara Frey, director of the University’s Human Rights Program, said the 2004 decision by the Supreme Court in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld ruled that prisoners were subject to the protections of international law, like the Geneva Conventions.
“(Geneva) applies to the war against terror,” Frey said. “Article 3 of the Geneva Convention is the bottom line in how we are to treat detainees. It absolutely prohibits torture and cruelty.”
Devon Chaffee, associate attorney of Human Rights First, a national human rights group, said earlier that anti-torture laws were more loosely defined and more easily circumvented through legal loopholes.
“We do have several laws on the books. What the Army field guide would do was to make sure these laws would be enforced,” Chaffee said.
Chaffee said Section 327 was introduced during a joint Senate and House conference in 2007, so, to overcome opposition, it needs three-fifths support instead of just a simple majority, Chaffee said.
Despite some opposition and the threat of a filibuster, human rights groups are optimistic about the amendment’s passage.
“Our understanding is that there’s support for this legislation, and support on both sides of the aisle. It’s clearly a nonpartisan issue,” Chaffee said.
But if the bill passes the Senate, it will likely face a presidential veto.
However, if it passes the president, officials from the U.S. Department of Justice and CIA said they will implement the legislation, Chaffee said.
“Congress has a responsibility to send a message to the public and intelligence community that it is serious about prohibiting torture,” Chaffee said.
“This legislation is the best way to ensure that the administration falls in line with its obligation to treat detainees humanely.”