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February 14, 2008
Senate Passes Torture Ban
With the threat of a presidential veto in the offing, the Senate passed a bill that would prevent US intelligence agencies from using waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation techniques" on al-Qaeda prisoners:
In a 51 to 45 vote, the Senate approved an intelligence bill that limits the CIA to using 19 less-aggressive interrogation tactics outlined in a U.S. Army Field Manual. The measure would effectively ban the use of simulated drowning, temperature extremes and other harsh tactics that the CIA used on al-Qaeda prisoners after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Curiously, John McCain voted against the measure to ban waterboarding after being one of the Senate's staunchest foes of the practice. McCain reasoned that banning the interrogation techniques by the military is different than telling our intelligence agencies how to do their job. The nuance appeared lost on Democrats who pounced on the GOP presidential nominee's apparent flip flop.
President Bush has vowed to veto the legislation, which the House approved in December, and Congress does not appear to have enough votes to override a veto.
House lawmakers, meanwhile, bickered yesterday over a Senate bill approved Tuesday that would permanently expand the government's ability to eavesdrop on terrorism suspects without warrants and would protect telecommunication firms from lawsuits for helping conduct such wiretaps.
A temporary law that does not include the immunity provision is due to expire Saturday. House Democrats had sought to extend the temporary law for 21 days to allow more time for debate, but the full chamber overwhelmingly rejected that idea by a vote of 229 to 191. Thirty-four Democrats joined Republicans in defeating the measure.
The bill reauthorizing the Terrorist Surveillance program will now almost certainly pass the House and be sent on to the president for his signature. This is a huge victory for Bush who continues to thwart the Democrats in their efforts to emasculate the ability of the government to protect American citizens from attack.
Bush's success is a stark reminder of the power of the presidency. Despite historically low approval ratings and a lame duck status, Bush has run off an impressive string of legislative victories on Iraq and the war on terror. In fact, a few more of these victories and the charges of "incompetence" could easily be flipped and applied to the leaders of the Democratic House and Senate.