This was a vote on an amendment to legislation authorizing funding for U.S. intelligence agencies. The intelligence budget -- which is classified -- includes funding for the CIA, the National Security Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency. The bill also creates a new position of Inspector General to exercise independent oversight over the intelligence community.
The amendment, offered by Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), the chairman of the committee that drafted the legislation, would make a number of technical and substantive changes to the bill. It would require a 15-year criminal sentence for intelligence officials who engage in certain interrogation techniques regarded by critics as torture. Such techniques include: "forcing the individual to be naked, perform sexual acts, or pose in a sexual manner," "beatings, electric shock, burns, or other forms of inflicting physical pain," waterboarding, depriving the individual of "necessary food, water, sleep, or medical care," and simulating "mock executions of the individual."
In addition, the amendment would impose new record keeping requirements for intelligence briefings provided to Congress. Such briefings have historically been restricted to the so-called "Gang go Eight," which includes: the chairmen of the intelligence committees; the ranking members from the minority party on those committees; the Speaker and Senate Majority Leader; and the House and Senate minority leaders. The amendment would require the president to maintain a record of all Gang of Eight briefings.
If the president determines that a briefing must be restricted to the Gang of Eight, the amendment provides that her or she must certify that extraordinary circumstances required such a briefing.
Reyes urged the House to agree to the amendment: "This reform is a substantial improvement over the language we included in previous authorization bills and which some of my colleagues still support. This earlier language would have actually expanded the President's authority to conduct restricted briefings, going so far as to include all intelligence activities, not just covert actions. It would also result in more restricted briefings and not fewer."
Reyes also argued his amendment would simply reassert existing law with respect to torture: "The manager's amendment includes language…that reiterates existing law on torture and provides statutory criminal penalties for individuals who knowingly commit an act of cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment. Torture is a reprehensible and counterproductive practice....Executive Order 13491 prohibits interrogators from engaging in any of the activities highlighted in the manager's amendment language. This Executive Order limits interrogations to the interrogation techniques that are authorized by the Army Field Manual. It also spells out the terms of Common Article 3 and relevant provisions of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment as the minimum standard for the United States to follow. ….It provides a specific criminal penalty for those who knowingly cause the death of a detainee. It is already a crime for an interrogator to knowingly murder a detainee. This provision merely adds a concrete statutory penalty to that conduct. This language does not, does not, give terrorists greater rights than ordinary criminals."
Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) argued the amendment would impose unreasonable requirements on the intelligence community, and expose intelligence officials to prosecution for using necessary interrogation techniques: " We are talking about enhanced interrogation techniques. The record indicates that even people as high as the Speaker of this House knew about it. Yet this House is supporting those efforts to perhaps go back and prosecute this. Now we open up a whole new set of legal risk for our people in the intelligence community. I wish this thing just said, ``Follow the rules,'' but it doesn't. It's 11 pages of legalese, creating all types of new and ambiguous rules for our people in the intelligence community….The amendment would make it a crime for depriving the individual of necessary food, water, sleep, or medical care. How does the bill define ``necessary''? How will we explain that to the people in the intelligence community? The amendment would make it a crime to require someone to participate in acts intended to violate the individual's religious beliefs. Is there any objective standard to define that term or is it a subjective standard? Is there any requirement of reasonableness? The amendment would make it a crime to exploit phobias of the individual. Phobias? Could you explain why this would be a criminal offense for a member of the intelligence community but not a criminal offense for a prosecutor who threatens a detainee with increased jail time if he does not cooperate?"
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) argued the amendment would harm national security: "…Just to further again tell you how dangerous the amendment is on making it a criminal act for CIA officers to try to conduct interrogations, again I just want to read--this goes after specifically any intelligence officer or employee of the intelligence community. So saying we're just restating law simply isn't true. And then it goes on to say ‘interrogation knowingly commits, attempts to commit, or conspires to commit an act of cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment.’....And, again, al Qaeda, Madam Chair, uses the technique, and we know this through a whole series of sources, to allege abuse. They use it in their media campaign, and they know it makes us chase our tail for weeks on end. This only enhances, this only strengthens their cause and al Qaeda's operational tactic to slow us down in the obtaining of that information. I can't tell you how serious this amendment is with no debate and no discussion. It's dangerous."
The House agreed to the amendment by a vote of 246-166. 245 Democrats and 1 Republican voted "yea." 162 Republicans and 4 Democrats voted "nay." As a result, the House agreed to an amendment to make a number of technical and substantive changes to the bill, including imposing new record-keeping requirements for intelligence briefings provided to Congress.