02.13.08

Whitehouse Urges Senate to Prohibit Torture

Mr. President, today's debate goes to the heart of what our country is, and what we wish it to be. By asking this: will the United States of America condone torture? Is there, at America's heart, a heart of darkness?

This authorization bill for America's intelligence community, offers us the opportunity to answer that question decisively. It contains a provision for which I have fought, for my initial amendment in Committee, and which I am proud to support today, that would prohibit members of the intelligence community from using any interrogation technique beyond those authorized in the Army Field Manual.

By adopting this amendment, the two Intelligence Committees - Congress's experts on these matters - have sent a clear signal to America and to the world: that in this country the rule of law is our strongest bulwark against those who would do us harm. I hope that today, the Senate will have the confidence in our national values to reaffirm that signal, and pass this legislation with the Army Field Manual provision included.

Over the past several months, the American people have become all too familiar with the issue of torture. I want to discuss one technique in particular today:

Waterboarding - or water torture, or the water cure - which dates back to the Spanish Inquisition of the 14th century. Waterboarding was a favorite of torturers, because its' terrible effects could be generated without the visible damage accompanying the rack, the screw, the iron, the whip or the gouge. It could be done over and over and over and over.

In the 20th century, waterboarding was done in the Philippines, where colonizers wielded it against indigenous peoples. It's been used in Sri Lanka, in Tunisia, by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia - we are in the tradition of Pol Pot - by the French in Algeria, by the Japanese in World War II, and by military dictatorships in Latin America.

The technique ordinarily involves strapping a captive in a reclining position, heels above head, putting a cloth over his face and pouring water over the cloth to simulate, to create, the feeling of suffocation and drowning. As I said, it leaves no marks on the body, but causes extreme physical and psychological suffering.

A French journalist, Henri Alleg, was subjected to this method of interrogation during the struggle for Algerian independence, and he wrote in his 1958 book The Question:
I tried, by contracting my throat, to take in as little water as possible and to resist suffocation by keeping air in my lungs for as long as I could. But I couldn't hold on for more than a few moments. I had the impression of drowning, and a terrible agony, that of death, took possession of me.

Waterboarding is associated with criminal, tyrant, and repressive regimes, with rulers who sought from their captives not information but propaganda, meant for broadcast to friends or enemies whether true or false. Regimes that employed the technique of waterboarding generally did not do so to obtain information - rather, to obtain compliance. But no matter the purpose or the reason, its use was, and is, indefensible.

Water torture was not unknown to Americans. A 1953 article in the New York Times quotes Lt. Col. William Harrison of the U.S. Air Force, who said he was "tortured with the ‘water treatment' by Communist North Koreans." In testimony before a U.S. military tribunal, Capt. Chase Jay Nielsen described being waterboarded by his Japanese captors following the 1942 Doolittle raid by U.S. aviators.

From all this, America's military knew there was a chance our servicemen and servicewomen could be subjected to water torture. The Defense Department established the SERE program: Survive, Evade, Resist, and Escape, to train select military personnel, who are at high risk of capture by enemy forces or isolation within enemy territory.

The program has also subjected certain service personnel to extreme interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, in an effort to prepare them for the worst: the possibility of capture and torture at the hands of a depraved or tyrannical enemy. According to Malcolm Nance, a former master instructor and chief of training at the U.S. Navy SERE school in San Diego: "[O]ur training was designed to show how an evil totalitarian enemy would use torture at the slightest whim."

Those who have experienced this technique, even at the hands of their own brothers in arms, are unequivocal about its effect. Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who underwent waterboarding during SERE training, said this: "As a human being, fear and helplessness are pretty overwhelming. ... this is not a discussion that Americans should ever be having. It is torture." And our colleague in this body, Senator John McCain, has said the same.

Yet it was to this relic of the dungeons of the Inquisition, of the Cambodian Killing Fields, and of the juntas of the southern hemisphere, that the Bush administration turned for guidance. I will speak later of how our Department of Justice came to approve this. But for now, we know just last week, in a stunning public admission, CIA Director General Michael Hayden admitted that the United States waterboarded three detainees following the September 11th attacks. The virus of waterboarding had traveled from tyrant regimes, through the SERE program, and infected America's body politic.

Retired Brigadier General David Irvin of the U.S. Army Reserve, a former intelligence officer and instructor in interrogation, and Joe Navarro, an interrogator with the FBI, have recently written this:

[T]here is considerable evidence that the CIA had to scramble after 9/11 to develop an interrogation program and turned to individuals with no professional experience in the field. ... Given the crisis atmosphere of the day, it is all too easy to believe the comment of an intelligence insider who said of the secret program to detain and interrogate al Qaeda suspects that "quality control went out the window."

Don't let us jump out the window after it.


America's military is expressly prohibited from using torture - because intelligence experts in our armed forces know that torture is an ineffective method of obtaining actionable intelligence.

Again I will speak later about the false assertion that this program was designed for eighteen year old novices. Some of the most sophisticated intelligence interrogations are done by our military after intense training. And, our military adheres to the Army Field Manual on Human Intelligence Collector Operations. At a hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, on which I serve, I asked Col. Steven Kleinman, a 22-year veteran of interrogations, a senior intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force Reserves and a veteran interrogator with plenty of experience overseas in the Middle East, about his experience conducting interrogations using the Army Field Manual. He said this:

I am not at all limited by the Army Field Manual in terms of what I need to do to generate useful information. ... I've never felt any necessity or operational requirement to bring physical, psychological or emotional pressure on a source to win their cooperation.

A significant number of retired military leaders have written to the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Intelligence Committee saying:

Interrogation methods authorized by the Field Manual have proven effective in eliciting vital intelligence from dangerous enemy prisoners. ... And the principles reflected in the Field Manual are values that no, no U.S. agency should violate.

And General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces serving in Iraq, reiterated this point when he wrote last year to every soldier serving in the Iraq theater:


Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient
methods to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong. Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary. ...our experience in applying the interrogation standards laid out in the Army Field Manual, [section] (2-22.3) on Human Intelligence Collector Operations that was published last year shows that the techniques in the manual work effectively and humanely in eliciting information from detainees.

That is the end of General Petraeus's quote.

The co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission emphatically agree. On Monday the chairmen, together with two former Secretaries of State, three former National Security Advisors and other national security experts, wrote that "[c]ruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners under American control makes us less safe, violates our nation's values, and damages America's reputation in the world."

Torture is ineffective, it's wrong, and it's dangerous to all those who serve the United States of America in harm's way. It should never, ever be used by any person who represents the United States of America, or any agency that flies the American flag.

I was proud, last July, to introduce an amendment in the Intelligence Committee that would write this rule into law, and when that effort did not succeed, I was proud again, last winter, to support Senator Feinstein's amendment in conference.

I call on all my colleagues to support this legislation. We can journey no longer down Winston Churchill's "stairway which leads to a dark gulf." As Winston Churchill said, "It is a fine broad stairway at the beginning, but after a bit the carpet ends. A little farther on there are only flagstones, and a little farther on still these break beneath your feet."

The United States of America - the city on a hill, the light of the world, the promise of generations - must not ever condone torture. Torture breaks that promise, torture extinguishes that light, torture darkens that city. I hope that by our actions today, we in the Senate will help turn this country back toward our centuries-old promise. I hope we will turn towards the light.

I thank the chair, and I yield the floor.

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