Congress will send President Bush a bipartisan measure this week prohibiting the CIA and other intelligence agencies from using waterboarding and other coercive techniques. We hope he will surprise everyone and sign the measure into law.
This measure is part of the 2008 Intelligence Authorization Bill that Congress passed earlier this month. It has been endorsed by 43 retired generals and admirals, and by a bipartisan group of 18 retired national security advisers, secretaries of state, ambassadors and other officials.
The measure would create a uniform standard throughout the U.S. government for interrogation, and require the CIA and the other intelligence agencies to follow the Army Field Manual, which carefully and precisely describes 19 approaches, and prohibits eight specific practices. If the president signs it into law, it would end the debate on the use of waterboarding and other coercive interrogation techniques once and for all.
Here's why this is so important:
It is the right thing to do. Waterboarding and the other coercive techniques are torture, and their use does not befit our great nation.
Our intelligence agencies would be able to effectively interrogate detainees - by using 19 techniques that are today used with success by the military; and
It would go a long way to restoring the standing of our nation in the eyes of the world.
Waterboarding and the excesses at Abu Ghraib are a black mark against the United States. It undermines our fight against terror, conflicts sharply with our national values, does not produce better intelligence than more traditional techniques, and sullies our worldwide reputation.
The Army Field Manual has been in use for decades. It was updated in 2006 to reflect lessons learned from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It specifically prohibits eight coercive interrogation techniques. They include waterboarding, mock executions and beatings.
Waterboarding dates to the Spanish Inquisition and has been a favorite of dictators through the ages, including Pol Pot and the regime in Burma. Its practice is designed to nearly drown a subject and make them think they're going to die.
Torture - including waterboarding - is immoral and illegal. It violates U.S. and international law and the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit the intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering. Condoning torture opens the door for our enemies to do the same to captured American troops in the future.
We have been moved by the heartfelt testimony of so many senior military commanders concerned about what this means for the safety of American troops. The United States simply cannot use interrogation methods that we would find unacceptable if used against our own troops. This principle is part of the Army Field Manual.
Torture also drives a wedge between us and our allies. We need to work closely with other nations if we are to prevail. But America's moral authority is eroded when we engage in torture. In the end, this makes it harder to fight terrorism, not easier. Simply put, torture is not in America's national interests.
Today, the U.S. military must follow the Army Field Manual during interrogations, which ensures that interrogators comply without exception to U.S. and international law and the Geneva Conventions.
Here's what's prohibited under the Army Field Manual:
Forcing the detainee to be naked, perform sexual acts or pose in a sexual manner.
Placing hoods or sacks over the head of a detainee; using duct tape over the eyes.
Beatings, electric shock, burns or other forms of physical pain.
Use of military working dogs.
Inducing hypothermia or heat injury.
Conducting mock executions.
Depriving the detainee of necessary food, water or medical care.
The 19 interrogation techniques authorized by the Army Field Manual come with strict protocols for their use. Most of these techniques involve psychological approaches - for example, making a prisoner believe cooperation could save his country by ending a war more quickly. Military commanders say these methods produce good intelligence.
In a letter to all U.S. troops in Iraq last May, Gen. David Petraeus wrote:
"Certainly, extreme physical action can make someone 'talk'; however, what the individual says may be of questionable value. In fact our experience in applying the interrogation standards laid out in the Army Field Manual . . . shows that the techniques in the manual work effectively and humanely in eliciting information from detainees."
America is engaged in a long struggle against terrorism. Gathering good, actionable intelligence is a key to winning. But we cannot lose sight of American values as we wage this fight. And we must not do things that unnecessarily increase risk to American troops.
The president should sign this bill into law. It's time to create a uniform interrogation standard that would apply to all parts of the U.S. government, and end this debate once and for all.