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House Democrats in disarray over anti-torture provision

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Democratic leadership in the House was in disarray last night after having to withdraw the 2010 Intelligence Authorization Act, moments before it was to have been voted upon, as the result of a controversial anti-torture provision.

The amendment was added in the House Rules Committee late on Wednesday and had not previously been vetted in committee. It would have criminalized the most extreme forms of “enhanced interrogation” and provided stiff sentences for intelligence officers or medical professions who engaged in them.

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Republican opposition caused the Democrats to attempt to remove the provision from the bill on Thursday by a unanimous consent agreement. When the Republicans refused to go along, the Democratic leadership was forced to pull the bill entirely.

In the wake of the debacle, there was confusion as to how the provision had gotten into the bill, and Democratic leaders appeared to be attempting to distance themselves from it.

The American Prospect had reported earlier that the amendment was proposed by House Intelligence Committee Chair Sylvestre Reyes (D-TX). After the withdrawal of the bill, however, Politico cited Democratic sources as saying that “House Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter attached the provision to the bill Wednesday over the objections of other House leaders.” One source told RollCall (reg. req.), “No one wanted it in there,” and Rep. Jane Harmon (D-CA) insisted, “It’s a mystery how that language got in there.”

Another Democratic source, however, told RollCall that the provision had been cleared with Intelligence Committee staff and that “Although there were some nervous Nellies, the committee did not say, ‘don’t do this,’ the committee was neutral.”

The amendment would have banned the most extreme forms of “enhanced interrogation” — including waterboarding, stress positions, sleep deprivation, prolonged isolation, and forced sexual acts — and imposed sentences of up to fifteen years, or even life if a detainee died as a result of such treatment.

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House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) called the provision “unconsicionable,” adding, “It’s time to stop trying to give foreign terrorists the same rights as American citizens and to stop persecuting the men and women risking their lives every day to keep our country safe.”


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