When the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly (96-2) to re-affirm the illegality of the use of torture we all thought it was a bit silly – no, pathetic that such an action was necessary. As it turns out, the ban on torture was stripped from the legislation after a meeting between senior administration officials and a group of congressional leaders that included Sen. Susan Collins, Rep. Jane Harman, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Rep. Peter Hoekstra.
At the urging of the White House, Congressional leaders scrapped a legislative measure last month that would have imposed new restrictions on the use of extreme interrogation measures by American intelligence officers, Congressional officials say.
The Senate had approved the new restrictions, by a 96-to-2 vote, as part of the intelligence reform legislation. They would have explicitly extended to intelligence officers a prohibition against torture or inhumane treatment, and would have required the C.I.A. as well as the Pentagon to report to Congress about the methods they were using.
But in intense closed-door negotiations, Congressional officials said, four senior members from the House and Senate deleted the restrictions from the final bill after the White House expressed opposition.
In a letter to members of Congress, sent in October and made available by the White House on Wednesday in response to inquiries, Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, expressed opposition to the measure on the grounds that it “provides legal protections to foreign prisoners to which they are not now entitled under applicable law and policy.”
A Congressional Democrat said the White House stance had left the impression “that the administration wanted an escape hatch to preserve the option of using torture” against prisoners held by the C.I.A.
Martin Lederman, a former Justice Department lawyer who left the department in 2002, said in an interview on Wednesday that he believed that the administration had “always wanted to leave a loophole where the C.I.A. could engage in actions just up to the line of torture.”
The administration has said almost nothing about the C.I.A. operation to imprison and question terror suspects designated as high-value detainees, even as it has expressed disgust about abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Senior officials have sought in recent public statements to emphasize that the government will continue to abide by federal laws that prohibit torture.
A new opinion made public late last month, signed by James B. Comey, the deputy attorney general, explicitly rejected torture and adopted more restrictive standards to define it.
But a cryptic footnote to the new document about the “treatment of detainees” referred to what the officials said were other still-classified opinions. The footnote meant, the officials said, that coercive techniques approved by the Justice Department under the looser interpretation of the torture statutes were still lawful even under the new, more restrictive interpretation.
Let Freedom Reign!!!