Secrecy News

House Adopts Intel Bill, Senate Affirms Torture Ban

The House of Representatives yesterday approved its version of the FY 2016 intelligence authorization act (HR 2596).

The bill includes “several” new reporting requirements intended “to enhance Congress’ role in and understanding of the classification process,” said Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA). One of these requirements is for a report to Congress noting each occasion in the past 5 years in which non-compartmented intelligence reporting has been disseminated through a (more restrictive) compartmented channel.

The bill passed by the House preserves a proposed new restriction on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board barring its access to covert action information. The Washington Post reported last week that the restriction was prompted by an op-ed written by the Board chairman suggesting that the Board might be able to assist in oversight of covert targeted killing operations.

Also yesterday, the Senate voted 78-21 to affirm a ban on torture and to limit the use of interrogation techniques to those that are included in Army Field Manual 2-22.3 (Appendix M). The measure was sponsored by Senators McCain and Feinstein.

“Current law already bans torture, as well as cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment,” Sen. McCain noted.

“However,” he said, “this amendment is still necessary because [after 9/11, so-called ‘enhanced’] interrogation techniques were able to be used, which were based on a deeply flawed legal theory, and those techniques, it was said, did not constitute ‘torture’ or ‘cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.’ These legal opinions could be written again.” The amendment is intended to preclude that possibility.

“I ask my colleagues to support this amendment,” Sen. Feinstein said, “and by doing so, we can recommit ourselves to the fundamental precept that the United States does not torture–without exception and without equivocation–and ensure that the mistakes of our past are never again repeated in the future.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who opposed the amendment, said “the effect of this policy is to hand our entire interrogation playbook to groups such as the self-declared Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ‘ISIL,” Al Qaeda, and the Taliban, which is a profound mistake.”