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US House Passes Intelligence Measure Amid Interrogation Controversy

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved intelligence policy legislation that would prohibit U.S. intelligence officials from using a number of controversial techniques in interrogating detainees. VOA's Dan Robinson report from Capitol Hill, Senate action is still pending and the measure faces a veto threat, while controversy continues over the CIA destruction of interrogation videotapes.

The intelligence policy document is aimed at strengthening the ability of 16 different intelligence agencies, including the CIA and National Security Agency (NSA), to fight terrorism.

It authorizes funds to improve U.S. human intelligence capabilities, training and analysis, support satellite intelligence-gathering, and increase the number of foreign language specialists.

Democrats supporting the measure placed an emphasis on what it does to restore accountability they say has been lost due to weaknesses in the intelligence structure.

In a provision that has drawn a veto threat from the White House, the measure requires that anyone involved in the interrogation of detainees, whether U.S. government employees or private contractors, adheres to guidelines contained in the U.S. Army Field Manual prohibiting the use of such techniques as waterboarding or simulated drowning.

Debate reflected the divisions between Democrats and Republicans on the matter.

"I don't think we should treat them as outlined in the Army Field Manual," said Congressman Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. "These are not normal enemy combatants. They don't wear a uniform and we shouldn't be applying military rules to the intelligence community."

Ohio Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky was among Democrats rejecting Republican assertions that including that the provision would make it more difficult for intelligence officers to obtain information.

"If we don't pass this bill with this provision how can we assume the moral authority to criticize Burma or any other nation for its treatment of prisoners," she said. "In the end we have hurt our own country and undermined the real source of our strength, the rule of law and the sanctity of our Constitution."

All of this came amid the controversy over the CIA's destruction several years ago of videotapes of interrogations using waterboarding.

As House and Senate committees and the Justice Department conduct investigations, CIA Director Michael Hayden visited Capitol Hill again to brief lawmakers.

Speaking with reporters, Hayden reiterated an earlier statement in which he appeared to acknowledge that the CIA may not have done enough to address congressional concerns.

"Certainly at the time of the destruction, [if] the appropriate standard is fully and currently informed, boy the agency had a lot of work to do, and that even after we came down here in September of 2006 and laid out as I described the entire rendition detention and interrogations program, not to the Gang of Four [a small group of key lawmakers] but to the entire committee and cleared staff, as we begin to roll that out the committee still had some concerns," he said. "It is our responsibility to make the committee comfortable, and as I said yesterday, we will take that on."

In a statement to CIA employees last week, Hayden at first said that Congress had been fully informed of the agency's intention to destroy the videotapes.

Democrat Rush Holt expressed dissatisfaction with what he calls Hayden's attempt to point to some technical sense in which notification was given to Congress.

"I hope you got my point that Congress does not feel that it was fully and currently informed, nor informed in a way that allows us to conduct the oversight," he said. "There was this important international issue of the treatment of detainees. We could have used detailed information about the treatment of detainees when we were investigating it."

House Democratic Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes and Congressman Hoekstra are seeking documents from the CIA on the videotape issue as investigations continue.