White House Wants CIA Exempt from Torture Ban
NOAH ADAMS, host:
It's DAY TO DAY. I'm Noah Adams.
The Bush administration is continuing its effort to soften a provision in the defense appropriations bill that would ban inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners held by the US. The latest proposal from Vice President Dick Cheney would exempt non-military agencies such as the CIA from the rules against torture. NPR's Corey Flintoff has a report.
COREY FLINTOFF reporting:
Vice President Cheney and CIA Director Porter Goss met recently with Senator John McCain in an effort to convince the Arizona Republican to agree to an exemption to an amendment he attached to the defense appropriations bill. McCain's amendment passed overwhelmingly after he argued that prisoner abuse produces bad intelligence, endangers American troops who might be captured by the enemy and makes America look bad.
Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): Prisoner abuses exact on us a terrible toll in the war of ideas because inevitably these abuses become public. When they do, the cruel actions of a few darken the reputation of our country in the eyes of millions.
FLINTOFF: McCain's amendment would prohibit cruel and inhumane treatment of detainees held anywhere under the control of the United States whether or not they're uniformed enemy soldiers. It would also make the Army field manual the only standard for interrogating prisoners held by the US military. Under Vice President Cheney's proposal, the McCain amendment would not apply to counterterrorism operations overseas or to operations conducted by an element of the United States government other than the Pentagon.
Mr. TOM MALINOWSKI (Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch): The proposal is very plain. The vice president is asking the Congress to give the CIA the explicit authority to treat prisoners inhumanely.
FLINTOFF: Tom Malinowski is advocacy director for Human Rights Watch in Washington. He says the Cheney proposal runs counter to the attitude of most intelligence professionals, who believe that they can live within the guidelines set by McCain's amendment. Larry Johnson agrees. Johnson is a former intelligence official. He says that because a prisoner will say anything to escape pain, most trained interrogators believe the torture is counterproductive.
Mr. LARRY JOHNSON (Former Intelligence Official): To a person, you know, they reject this, you know, notion of using torture as just, you know, not only counterproductive but amoral or immoral. And by being immoral, that it's like, you know, why subject yourself to that. The other thing that they point out is that you've got lawyers looking over their shoulders every which way.
FLINTOFF: Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch adds that weakening the standards for treating prisoners sets a bad example for American soldiers.
Mr. MALINOWSKI: It's impossible to teach soldiers that torture is always wrong if they know that another agency of the US government is authorized to engage in it.
FLINTOFF: No one likes to be seen as arguing in favor of torture. White House spokesman Scott McClellan denied vehemently that the president would ever authorize abusive practices. Some people argue, though, that the US needs flexibility in dealing with new enemies who are not uniformed military and who do not fight according to any rules of war. John Yoo is a former Justice Department lawyer who was involved in writing the administration's memos on dealing with terror suspects. In a discussion on NPR's "Talk of the Nation," Yoo cited the example of Abu Zubaydah, said to be the number-three man in the al-Qaeda terrorist organization who was taken into custody by the US some three years ago.
Mr. JOHN YOO (Former Justice Department Lawyer): Is it really the case that supporters of the McCain amendment believe that we are limited to shouted questions or perhaps mind games, you know, good cop, bad cop, the kind of things in the military interrogation manual, when we question someone like Abu Zubaydah, who has in his head plans about attacking the United States in the future?
FLINTOFF: As for Senator McCain's argument that American troops would be in greater jeopardy if they were captured by the enemy, Yoo had this to say.
Mr. YOO: At least in the war on terrorism, do we really believe that even if we gave Geneva Convention protections to members of al-Qaeda that they would treat our men and women in the field who are putting their lives on the line any--to the same level of treatment? As far as we can tell, they don't even take prisoners.
FLINTOFF: The McCain amendment is now in the hands of a joint House and Senate conference committee, which is scheduled to take it up this week. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Washington.
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