Rep. Silvestre Reyes legislation making torture a crime up for vote today
By Darren Meritz / El Paso Times
Posted: 02/26/2010 12:00:00 AM MST
EL PASO -- U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes on Thursday introduced legislation that establishes criminal penalties for intelligence officers and federal contractors who use torture to gain information.
Reyes, D-Texas, and other members of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence amended the intelligence authorization bill late Wednesday night to establish criminal penalties for any officer or employee of the intelligence community who commits torture.
The bill, titled The Cruel Inhuman and Degrading Interrogations Prohibition Act of 2010, will be voted on today.
The amendment drew criticism from Republican representatives angry that the revision was slipped into the bill without review in committee. Republicans also worried that the amendment would have a chilling effect on intelligence gathering overseas.
"This provision will treat terrorists more gingerly than those in our criminal defense system," said Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, a member of the intelligence committee. "There is this thread of antagonism against our intelligence professionals that says É we're going to send them to jail if they don't coddle these terrorists in the appropriate way. I think that reflects a lack of seriousness with this measure."
Reyes, who introduced the bill on the House floor Thurs day, said in session that there are strong sentiments about the amendment on both sides of the aisle.
"This bill takes the initial, important steps to improve congressional oversight of the intelligence community," said Reyes, chairman of the committee. The amendment "is intended to be a strong and significant step toward better oversight, which still respects the constitutional authorities of the president."
Penalties written into the 11-page amendment for anyone convicted of torture include a 15-year prison sentence, 20 years for anyone who commits an act of medical malfeasance, and life in prison if death results during an interrogation.
The amendment also details what is considered cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, which includes forcing an individual to perform sexual acts, administering electric shock and using waterboarding, an interrogation method in which a person's face is placed under pouring water making the person feel as if he were drowning.
The provision is designed to make clear that any intelligence officer who engages in torture can be criminally punished, said an official in Reyes' office. Law in the United States already makes torture a crime, a Reyes spokes man said.
The legislation is meant to counter a 2003 Justice Department memo to the Pentagon that concluded certain maiming, assault and tortures outlined by the United Nations did not apply to U.S. intelligence officers interrogating terrorists outside the United States.
Defining an ethical standard for intelligence officers is good as long as the law is not retroactive, said Larry Korb, a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for American Progress.
Korb was also an assistant secretary of defense in the 1980s.
"If they use torture, then they would know they are criminally liable," said Korb, who was not familiar with Reyes' proposal. Korb said it is "very, very dubious" as to whether torture yields useful information. And he does not believe such a law would have a chilling effect on intelligence officers.
"We have certain standards and values that we uphold," he said. "If we undermine those values, it promotes the al-Qaida agenda."
Darren Meritz may be reached at dmeritz@...
Times reporter Chris Roberts contributed to this story.