It took an extra day, but the House of Representatives Friday approved a bill to reauthorize the nation’s intelligence programs.
The House Democratic leadership team hoped to approve the measure Thursday. But in a stunning move, the Democratic braintrust yanked the bill off the floor after a controversy erupted over punishing CIA interrogators who could cross the line while questioning suspected terrorists.
Moderate and conservative Democrats joined most Republicans in crying foul when Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) added a provision to the measure that could punish CIA officers for engaging in “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” when they interrogate terrorism suspects. But there is no concrete language describing what the terms “cruel, inhuman and vague” mean.
The bill gives Congress several years to define the terms. Some of the enhanced interrogation methods in question include waterboarding (that simulates drowning), electric shock, beatings, the use of dogs or even placing a hood over the head of a suspect. Lawmakers were particularly exercised over the threat that some interrogators could be jailed for 15 years if convicted or receive a life sentence if a detainee dies in custody.
Democrats sliced the criminal penalty provision from the bill late Thursday night and returned it to the House floor for a vote Friday.
The final House approved the measure 235 to 168.