Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate regarding the intelligence authorization bill:
“This morning we will vote on whether to invoke cloture on the intelligence authorization conference report. America has been without an intelligence authorization bill for nearly three years. That is long enough.
“The bill before us contains many important provisions that would strengthen our intelligence capabilities to fight terrorism and keep our country safe. This bill includes a number of provisions that would begin to restore proper Congressional oversight. And it includes a provision sponsored by Senator Feinstein that would require all intelligence professionals in the United States government to adhere to the interrogation standards included in the Army Field Manual. I urge all of my colleagues to join me in voting for cloture on the intelligence authorization conference report.
“If, as I hope, cloture is invoked, our Republican colleagues may raise a point of order against the Feinstein provision. We will move to waive this point of order, which, under the rules, requires 60 votes. Should Republicans force a vote to waive the point of order, I urge all of my colleagues to do so.
“This is a question of moral authority. The Senate should stand as one to declare that America has just one standard of interrogation. We are living in strange times. We are asking other countries to follow our moral lead. To embrace our way of life. To aspire to the American standard of liberty.
“Yet I fear that too often, the Administration’s actions betray those goals. Two weeks ago, Attorney General Mukasey refused to say that waterboarding is illegal. Last week, CIA Director Hayden publicly confirmed that U.S. personnel had waterboarded individuals in our custody. And the next day, the White House affirmatively declared that waterboarding is legal and that President Bush is free to authorize our intelligence agencies to resume its use.
“President Bush may not care much what we in Congress – Democrats or Republicans – think. But we are an equal branch of government, and it is time we made him hear us. The Administration can develop as many novel and convoluted legal theories as it wishes, but they cannot change the simple fact that it has long been settled law that waterboarding is torture and it is illegal. It is illegal here in America and it is illegal throughout the world. In decades past, America has prosecuted our enemies and even our own troops for waterboarding.
“But this debate is not just about one kind of torture. It is about ensuring that no form of torture, cruel or inhuman interrogation techniques that are illegal under the Geneva Conventions and that are prohibited by the Army Field Manual are used. These include beating prisoners, sexually humiliating them, threatening them with dogs, depriving them of food and water, performing mock executions, shocking them with electricity and burning them.
“These techniques are repugnant to every American. They fly in the face of our most basic values. They should be completely off-limits to the United States government. We have already seen the damage these torture methods can cause, writ large, in the Abu Ghraib prison. The revelation that American personnel had engaged in such terrible behavior – behavior that we had always strongly condemned when used by others – caused tremendous damage to our nation’s moral authority. The recruiting opportunity it provided our terrorist enemies cannot be understated, and cannot be undone.
“Forty-three retired military leaders of the United States Armed Forces have written us a letter strongly stating that all U.S. personnel – military and civilian – should be held to a single standard. These honored leaders write: ‘We believe it is vital to the safety of our men and women in uniform that the United States not sanction the use of interrogation methods it would find unacceptable if inflicted by the enemy against captured Americans.’
“They state that the interrogation methods in the Army Field manual ‘have proven effective’ and that they ‘are sophisticated and flexible.’ And they explicitly reject the argument that the Field Manual rules are too simplistic for civilian interrogators. Our Commander in Iraq, General Petraeus, wrote an open letter to the troops in May, in which he had this to say:
‘Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong. . . .[H]istory shows that [such actions]are frequently neither useful nor necessary. Certainly, extreme physical action can make someone “talk;” however, what the individual says may be of questionable value. In fact, our experience in applying the interrogation standards laid out in the Army Field Manual . . . shows that the techniques in the manual work effectively and humanely in eliciting information from detainees.’
“Just yesterday, a bipartisan group of foreign policy experts joined together to call upon Congress to endorse the application of the Army Field Manual standards across all U.S. agencies. That group included the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the 9/11 Commission, two former Secretaries of State, three former National Security Advisors, a former Secretary of the Navy, and other highly regarded officials from both parties.
“The Bush Administration’s continued insistence on its right to use abusive techniques gives license to our enemies abroad, puts at risk our soldiers and citizens who may fall into our enemies’ hands, and serves as an ongoing recruiting tool for militant extremists. Meanwhile, the widespread belief that our country uses abusive interrogation methods has weakened our ability to create coalitions of our allies to fight our enemies because other countries have at times refused to join us.
“Many of us thought that Congress had addressed the issue of torture once and for all – when we overwhelmingly passed the McCain amendment in 2005. But President Bush immediately issued a signing statement casting doubt on his willingness to enforce a ban on torture, and his Administration has worked ever since to undermine that law.
“Colleagues, this vote today gives Congress a chance to show President Bush that we meant what we said three years ago when we passed the McCain amendment. Today we have an opportunity to begin to rebuild America’s precious and diminished moral authority. Today we can strengthen the war on terror. I urge us to stand together to support cloture, and if necessary, to vote to waive the point of order.”