Torture Debate at Heart of Bush Veto

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President Bush has vetoed an intelligence policy bill over a provision that would ban harsh interrogation techniques. The president said the ban would "take away one of the most valuable tools in the war on terror."


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up, tensions ease in South American.

But first, this morning President Bush vetoed an intelligence policy bill over a provision that would ban harsh interrogation techniques, including water boarding or simulated drowning.

P: We need to ensure our intelligence officials have all the tools they need to stop the terrorists. Unfortunately, Congress recently sent me an intelligence authorization bill that would diminish these vital tools. So today, I vetoed it.

SIMON: Here to talk about this latest standoff between the president and congressional Democrats is NPR congressional correspondent David Welna.

David, thanks for being with us.

DAVID WELNA: Sure, Scott.

SIMON: What is this intelligence bill? What did the Democrats add?

WELNA: This is a bill that the intelligence committees of both chambers try to pass each year. It authorizes the activities of the intelligence community. And it gives them more oversight power over them. They've not been able to actually pass such a bill for two years now. And this one is especially interesting because it declassifies for the very first time the intelligence budget.

It requires that the National Intelligence Program, which receives all the money for spying, reveal how much money it gets, and it breaks it down agency by agency so that there can be more questions raised about how that money is being spent and what they're getting out of it.

SIMON: Now the Army Field Manual figures into this, doesn't it? 'Cause there's restrictions there.

WELNA: Yes, actually when the two chambers are trying to work out their differences in their versions of the bill, there was a provision that was inserted that required that all intelligence - that required that all interrogation done by any U.S. agency follow the Army Field Manual. Now the Army Field Manual updated its intelligence interrogation techniques a couple years ago to come in line with the detainee treatment act to make sure that no torture was being done by the U.S. military.

WELNA: However, the CIA and other spy agencies were not subjected to that. And this is a manual that spells out 19 different techniques for interrogation. It explicitly prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and it complies with the Geneva Convention. It says that you cannot do things such as waterboarding.

SIMON: Now the president and some other people in Congress, for that matter, say at least the threat of waterboarding is a valuable tool that you don't want to take away. You don't want to essentially say to your adversaries, there are some things we will not do.

WELNA: And that's what this veto is all about because President Bush says, once al-Qaida or any other enemy knows what the techniques might be used in interrogation, they will train for those techniques and it will be much harder for the U.S. to get information out of them, and that's the whole rationale for the veto.

SIMON: How's Congress likely to react?

WELNA: Well the House has already said that it's going to try to override the veto. However, this intelligence bill only got 222 votes in the House and it would take far more than that to override. In the Senate, it passed by one vote. And there's no prospect of that happening, an override. And this is happening in a larger context also of a fight over an intelligence update bill on the foreign intelligence surveillance program.

And the House right now is refusing to bring that legislation up for a vote there. And the standoff with President Bush is much larger than just over this intelligence authorization bill.

SIMON: Thanks very much, NPR's David Welna.

WELNA: You're welcome.

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