The U.S. Senate has defied a veto threat from President Bush and approved legislation that would prohibit intelligence agencies from using extreme interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. The measure was included in a bill to authorize intelligence programs and spending for the current budget year. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.
Two months after the House of Representatives approved the bill, the Senate followed suit - voting 51 to 45.
Supporters praised the provision that would bar intelligence agencies from using interrogation techniques not authorized by the U.S. Army Field Manual, which include waterboarding - a procedure that induces the feeling of drowning, and other coercive measures.
Supporters argued that such techniques amount to torture, and banning their use would help restore America's moral standing in the world in the aftermath of reports of abuse of detainees at the hands of U.S. interrogators.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, sponsored the provision. "It signals to me that change is really in the air, that for the first time in the Senate and the House have essentially said that there will be a uniform standard of interrogation of detainees all across the government. So torture is out," she said.
Senator Jay Rockerfeller, a West Virginia Democrat and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said extreme interrogation techniques do not always work. "Coercive techniques can produce information that is fabricated and ultimately lead to flawed and misleading intelligence reports," he said.
But Republican opponents said Congress should not be interfering with intelligence agencies' rules of interrogations, which they described as lawful and effective.
"This is a bad bill, because what it would do, according to the Director of National Intelligence, is to shut down the most effective interrogation program that the CIA has to use to induce cooperation from those leaders of al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations," said Senator Christopher Bond of Missouri, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Still, a number of Republicans were reluctant to oppose the bill and cast a vote that could be interpreted as supporting torture - and they left it to President Bush to make good on his veto threat.
The provision had not been part of the original intelligence authorization bill approved by the House and Senate. It was included during negotiations to reconcile differences in the two versions of the bill.
CIA Director Michael Hayden recently confirmed that waterboarding had been used on three terrorism suspects five years ago. Although the CIA banned the technique in 2006, the Bush administration has said interrogators might be able to use it again, but only if authorized by the president.