Torture Language Trips Up Intelligence Bill

Posted February 25, 2010 at 9:25pm

An anti-torture provision tripped up the intelligence authorization bill, forcing Democratic leaders to pull it from the House floor and prompting finger pointing among Democrats over who was at fault.

Language from Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) requiring that intelligence officers use Army Field Manual interrogation guidelines was added to the manager’s amendment in the Rules Committee, according to Democratic sources, over the objections of leadership.

“No one wanted it in there,” said one Democratic source.

The inclusion of the language surprised senior members of the Intelligence Committee.

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) said he didn’t know about the provision until he got to the floor. “We want to focus on what the major bill is about,” he said. “It got into Rules at the last minute.”

“It’s a mystery how that language got in there,” said Rep. Jane Harmon (D-Calif.).

Another Democratic source maintained, however, that the McDermott language had been vetted with the Intelligence staff, that they had not objected and that Members thought it would make a clean break from the abuses of the past.

“Although there were some nervous Nellies, the committee did not say, ‘don’t do this,’ the committee was neutral,” the source said.

The Rules Committee met Thursday night to strike the language from the manager’s amendment, and the bill is expected back on the floor Friday.

Republicans, meanwhile, pounced, refusing to allow a unanimous consent request to strip the language and ripping Democrats for targeting intelligence officers.

“Our intelligence professionals deserve our steadfast support,” House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said. “They should not be targeted for criminal prosecution.”

Boehner called McDermott’s language “unconscionable.”

“It’s time to stop trying to give foreign terrorists the same rights as American citizens and to stop persecuting the men and women risking their lives every day to keep our country safe.”