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The question of how suspected terrorists must be treated during interrogations has haunted this country and its policymakers for more than a decade now. President Obama issued an executive ban on the official use of torture as soon as he came into office. And today, the Senate votes on whether to make that the law of the land. Here's NPR's David Welna.
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Congress did ban the use of torture by U.S. officials nearly a decade ago in what was known as the Detainee Treatment Act. Under that law, the Pentagon had to restrict its interrogation techniques to those prescribed in the Army Field Manual, but not the CIA. Two days after being sworn in, President Obama sought to remedy that. He signed an executive order making the manual apply to all U.S. agencies.
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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We believe that the Army Field Manual reflects the best judgment of our military, that we can abide by a rule that says we don't torture. But that we can still effectively obtain the intelligence that we need.
WELNA: Retired Army Lt. Gen. Charles Otstott was standing right behind Obama at that signing ceremony.
LT. GEN. CHARLES OTSTOTT: And I thought golly, that's a good thing, that's done. But then I realized in my naivete that that was just an executive order.
WELNA: And because it's an executive order, it can easily be rescinded by the next president. Former Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry would like to be that next president. Asked last month at a candidate forum on national security in Iowa whether he would rescind Obama's anti-torture executive order, Perry promised he would. Simply imagine, he said, that some individuals had plans to kill millions of Americans.
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GOV/PRES CAND RICK PERRY: And there are some enhanced interrogation techniques that would help us to get those answers, then I would suggest to you that it would be inhumane for you not to use those techniques.
WELNA: Those enhanced interrogation techniques - which others call torture - were graphically portrayed in the movie is "Zero Dark 30," using what's known as waterboarding. An actor playing an American interrogator douses the towel covered face of a suspected terrorist with a pitcher full of water.
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JASON CLARKE: (As Dan) When was the last time you saw bin Laden? Huh? You know when you lie to me, I hurt you.
WELNA: Such torment by CIA interrogators was documented in a Senate Intelligence Committee report whose summary was released half a year ago. California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein oversaw that investigation. She's now sponsoring the measure with John McCain, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, that codifies Obama's executive ban on torture into law.
SEN DIANNE FEINSTEIN: That's the least we can do if we believe in our values, if we're willing to stand for our values. There can never be another chapter again like the chapter that was just finished.
WELNA: Still, some senators question the wisdom of using only the easily-accessible Army field manual. Ron Johnson is a Republican from Wisconsin.
SEN RON JOHNSON: I don't ever want to signal to any enemy what we may or may not do. I'd rather keep people, you know, guessing a little bit. I mean, that's probably more effective in terms of getting the - gathering the intelligence we need.
COL. STEVEN KLEINMAN: That's an understandable concern.
WELNA: That's retired Air Force Col. Steven Kleinman. He's a former interrogator who's been lobbying for the statutory ban on torture. Kleinman says just because the Army Field Manual's interrogation techniques are known does not mean they're not effective.
KLEINMAN: People can understand the psychology behind advertising and still go out and buy things they really didn't intend to.
WELNA: Kleinman and other veteran interrogators say the only way to prevent torture is to ban it for good. David Welna, NPR News, Washington.
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