February 13, 2008

Senate Passes Ban on Torture Cosponsored by Whitehouse

Measure Would Prohibit Use of Waterboarding by CIA Interrogators

Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Senate today passed legislation banning the use of torture by U.S. interrogators, a measure cosponsored by U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, fought to include the provision in the House-Senate conference report, and praised today’s vote as a clear sign that “the strength of America is the force of its ideals.”

“Torture is ineffective, unnecessary, andwrong, 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 this country, or any agency that flies our flag, and this vote should ensure that it never will be,” Whitehouse said. “Now, President Bush must stand with us, and not with the torturers of the Khmer Rouge or the Inquisitors of Spain. I hope the President will sign this legislation and commit his administration to follow it.”

Last week, General Michael Hayden, director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), publicly admitted for the first time that the CIA had waterboarded three detainees while in U.S. custody. Waterboarding, or water torture, involves strapping a captive in a reclining position, putting a cloth over his face and pouring water over the cloth to create the feeling of suffocation and drowning. The technique causes extreme physical and psychological suffering and has been recognized as illegal torture by a number of U.S. courts and military tribunals, as well as under international law.

Despite this precedent, Attorney General Michael Mukasey has said the Department of Justice provided legal guidance to the CIA indicating that the use of waterboarding would be lawful. Mukasey has refused to comment on the legality of waterboarding because the technique was not currently in use, and because of what he described as “the absence of concrete facts and circumstances.”

Whitehouse was the principal sponsor of an amendment prohibiting torture in July, as part of legislation authorizing funding and setting policy for the CIA and other branches of the intelligence community. When that amendment failed in the Senate Intelligence Committee, Whitehouse joined Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and several others to try to add the amendment during House-Senate conference negotiations on the bill last December. That time, it passed, with the support of Congressman Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The Senate voted today to approve the conference report; the House took a similar vote late last year.


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