Thursday the US House passed a bill that, among other things, banned waterboarding.
The House of Representatives on Thursday approved an intelligence bill that bans the Central Intelligence Agency from using waterboarding, mock executions and other harsh interrogation methods.
The 222-199 vote sent the measure to the Senate, which still must act before it can go to President Bush. The White House has threatened a veto.
The bill, a House-Senate compromise to authorize intelligence operations in 2008, also blocks spending 70 percent of the intelligence budget until the House and Senate intelligence committees are briefed on Israel’s Sept. 6 air strike on an alleged nuclear site in Syria.
It’s that third paragraph that has me puzzled. Why did the House vote to block 70% of our own intelligence budget until the intel committees get briefed on the Israeli raid on Syria? There’s a cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face quality about that move that strikes me as stunningly stupid. While I’d like to find out what happened in that September raid as much as anyone, handcuffing our own intelligence agencies in the middle of a war is not the right way to go about getting that information. (If they want to handcuff the IC to stop it from trying to make policy rather than do it’s job, that’s another matter and I’m inclined to support it.) There’s also an element of danger about this, since Congress has been notoriously leaky. If the intel committees get briefed, presumably with their committee staffs present, whatever they hear will get leaked and wind up on the front page of the NYT. That’s likely to upset a thing or two in the Middle East. There are a few members of Congress who know what happened in that raid, and they could presumably give select briefings on the topic that are confined to a very few members in both parties. President Bush should veto this bill based on the Syria raid demand alone, never mind that Congress is going about the waterboarding ban in entirely the wrong way. They ban they’re putting in place would prohibit any aggressive interrogation of the next high value target captured, which may be someone as high in al Qaeda as Ayman al-Zawahiri or even Osama himself. We would forfeit learning whatever we could from them about ongoing attack plans and about the terrorist network itself for the sake of soothing Congressional and other sensitive consciences. That strikes me as unwise. Especially when you consider that in the case of Congress at least, the sensitive conscience act is mostly a pose.
A better way and one I’ve advocated would be to ban the procedure but leave in the possibility of an exception that would be signed off by the president and a couple of members of each party in Congress. Put the politicians on the record since they’re held accountable by the voters and protect our intel officers, who are acting on the orders of the politicians to save American lives.
(h/t Lawhawk, who notes that the Israelis are suffering another round of terrorist rocket launches)