WASHINGTON – The Senate Intelligence Committee voted Tuesday to limit CIA interrogators to techniques approved by the military, which would effectively bar them from waterboarding prisoners, congressional officials said.
The vote, taken behind closed doors as the committee debated legislation to authorize money for intelligence operations in 2009, marks at least the second attempt by intelligence overseers in Congress to regulate CIA questioning of detainees. Congressional officials discussed the vote on condition of anonymity because the vote was secret.
President Bush vetoed the 2008 intelligence authorization bill in March because it included the same curbs on questioning techniques. This interrogation provision, if passed by the full Senate and House, would likely face the same fate.
Committee officials refused to comment because deliberations over the bill were ongoing. The bill was expected to be completed later this week.
The military rewrote its field manual on interrogation in 2006 in the wake of the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal in Iraq. It outlines 19 legal interrogation techniques, including "good cop/bad cop," "false flag" -- making prisoners think they are in the custody of another country -- and the separation of a prisoner from other prisoners for up to 30 days at a time.
It prohibits waterboarding, which simulates drowning. The technique has been traced back hundreds of years, to the Spanish Inquisition, and is condemned by nations around the world. Critics call it a form of torture.
According to the field manual, prisoners may not be hooded or have duct tape put across their eyes. They may not be stripped naked or forced to perform or mimic sexual acts. They may not be beaten, electrocuted, burned or otherwise physically hurt. They may not be subjected to hypothermia or mock executions. The manual also does not allow food, water and medical treatment to be withheld, and dogs may not be used in any aspect of interrogation.
CIA Director Michael Hayden has objected to limiting the CIA to military methods, saying the CIA was not consulted on the 19 approved techniques and they do not encompass all lawful, non-abusive methods of interrogation. For example, sleep deprivation is not mentioned in the manual.
The CIA says it has held and interrogated fewer than 100 detainees. It has used "enhanced" interrogation techniques on a third of them, according to Hayden.
Absent a law against it, waterboarding remains a possibility in future interrogations of terrorism suspects, as long as the president authorizes it after consulting with the attorney general and intelligence officials.