MELISSA BLOCK, host:
The Senate defied a presidential veto threat today. It passed an intelligence bill with the provision that it would effectively ban the torture of detainees.
Contrary to what the White House wanted, the measure would prohibit all interrogation techniques except those permitted by the Army Field Manual. Proponents say this will keep prevent the CIA from using such methods like waterboarding or simulated drowning.
The president's allies on Capitol Hill argued the bill could shut down a valuable intelligence program.
NPR's David Welna has a story.
DAVID WELNA: The debate that preceded the Senate's 51 to 45 vote today was similar to one it had two years ago. At that time, former prisoner of war, John McCain argued that torture is never justified. The result was the Detainee Treatment Act which requires that U.S. military interrogations stick to the Army Field Manual.
At the insistence of the White House, the CIA was exempted. But McCain is now a presidential contender seeking conservatives' support. Despite being at the Capitol today, he made no floor speeches. Instead California Democrat Dianne Feinstein made the case for having the Army Field Manual be the sole standard for all interrogations.
Senator DIANNE FEINSTEIN (Democrat, California): The question is whether the United States should continue to go to the dark side, down the road of torture, and continue to allow the CIA and other intelligence agencies to practice or outsource state-sanctioned torture.
WELNA: Just last week, CIA Director General Michael Hayden told Congress his agency have subjected three al-Qaida suspects to waterboarding. That practice is widely considered torture, but the White House insisted no law had been broken.
Kit Bond, the intelligence panel's top Republican also defended the CIA's methods.
Senator KIT BOND (Republican, Missouri; Vice Chairman, U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee): Let's be clear. We're not talking about any cruel and human degrading or torture techniques. They're different from what published in the Army Field Manual and that's the only reason they are effective. I regret that the measure before us has this ban that would shut down the most valuable source of information that our intelligence community has.
WELNA: Bond also revealed that other suspected terrorist had been subjected to the CIA's so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.
Sen. BOND: Yes, the CIA, on a couple or three dozen, somewhere there may have used enhanced interrogation techniques. Almost 10,000 valuable pieces of information have come from the CIA's program. We are safer in the United States because we have disrupted plots from Fort Knox to La Juana(ph) to Chicago to Torrance, California across this nation because of good intelligence.
WELNA: That view stand sharply at odds with what Intelligence Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller said he learned in extensive briefings by the CIA.
Senator JAY ROCKEFELLER (Democrat, West Virginia; Chairman, U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence): I have not heard nor have I seen any evidence that supports the Intelligence Committee's claim that using enhanced interrogation techniques is the only way to obtain this type of intelligence.
WELNA: Rockefeller argued that this effort by Congress to clamp down on interrogation techniques will only enhanced the nation's security.
Sen. ROCKEFELLER: We must uphold those standards that differentiated us from the terrorist that we are fighting. If our government continues to use secret interrogation techniques, that many are convinced counts to torture, America's standing in the world will continue to be done even more. And every time it goes down, there are more people who sign up to do us harm.
WELNA: In the end, Senator McCain joined most of his fellow Republicans and voted against the bill banning torture.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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