President Bush will veto the recently passed intelligence authorization bill over restrictions on CIA interrogation techniques. He will explain the veto in his weekly radio address, claiming that it takes vital tools away from counterterrorism agents during a conflict when such tools are most needed. The conflict sets up a showdown with Congress, in the presidential election, and with a media apparently determined to misreport it:
President Bush today will veto legislation meant to ban the CIA from using waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics and will argue that the agency needs to use tougher methods than the U.S. military to wrest information from terrorism suspects, administration officials said. …
Although long expected, Bush’s formal move to veto the bill reignites the Washington debate over the proper limits of the U.S. interrogation policies and whether the CIA has engaged in torture by subjecting prisoners to severe tactics, including waterboarding, a type of simulated drowning.
The issue also has potential ramifications for GOP presidential nominee John McCain (R-Ariz.), a longtime critic of coercive interrogation tactics who nonetheless backed the Bush administration in opposing the CIA waterboarding ban. The Democratic presidential candidates, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.), both support the ban, though neither was present for last month’s Senate vote for the bill that Bush is to veto.
The legislation would have limited the CIA to using 19 less-aggressive tactics outlined in a U.S. Army field manual on interrogations. Besides ruling out waterboarding, that restriction would effectively ban temperature extremes, extended forced standing and other harsh methods that the CIA used on al-Qaeda prisoners after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
John McCain absolutely did not support waterboarding, and the Post misrepresents the issue entirely. John McCain supports the veto not because he supports waterboarding, but because McCain believes it already to be illegal. He has made this plain ever since this bill came to the floor for its vote. His bill in 2006 already made the practice illegal, at least in his opinion, and the portion of this bill that addresses that is superfluous.
More than that, McCain sees it as dangerously limiting to the CIA, for two reasons. First, the Army field manual applies to a different set of circumstances than the CIA faces, primarily because the Army faces a different enemy in the field and has a much different mission than the CIA. The AFM appropriately limits the actions of its interrogators, but it isn’t the ur-text of what constitutes and doesn’t constitute torture. Just because a method doesn’t make it into the AFM doesn’t mean that it’s torture under international convention.
Secondly — and this can’t be said strongly enough — it is wildly inappropriate to publish the limits of interrogatory technique for the CIA. That should be left to the imagination of our enemie, again for two reasons. One, the publication allows our enemies to prepare themselves for the limit of the techniques published, making successful interrogation much more difficult to achieve. Second, having the limits remain unknown allows fear of what might happen to make less-intensive techniques more effective.
McCain opposed the bill for these reasons, not because he supposedly reversed himself on waterboarding. The problems with this legislation don’t involve techniques as much as it involves strategic stupidity.