WASHINGTON - CIA agents would be banned from simulating drowning, a technique known as waterboarding, when questioning suspected terrorists under legislation agreed to by House and Senate negotiators, lawmakers said.
The legislation would require all spy agencies to follow the Army Field Manual's interrogation standards, which ban waterboarding and other harsh techniques, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee said in separate statements yesterday.
Waterboarding became politically controversial following news reports that the CIA had used the technique three times to interrogate suspected Al Qaeda operatives after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It hasn't been used since 2003, according to reports.
"The national debate over torture will end if this amendment to place the CIA under the Army Field Manual becomes law," Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who is a sponsor of the provision, said in a statement. "All US government interrogations, military and civilian, would be conducted under the same rules."
If approved by Congress, the ban might prompt a veto by President Bush, who has argued that intelligence agents need flexibility in questioning suspected terrorists. The Bush administration has denied that agents ever tortured prisoners to extract information.
Dana Perino, White House spokeswoman, said that such a provision "is something the president has opposed in the past and that we would have a veto threat on."
The provision requires the CIA and other civilian agencies to comply with the ban on waterboarding and seven other techniques contained in the manual.
The proposed ban is "a killer amendment" that "would essentially put the CIA out of business," said Senator Christopher Bond, Republican of Missouri and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Besides Feinstein, the provision was also sponsored by Democrats Russell Feingold of Wisconsin and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska.
Congress, under Republican control last year, approved legislation to limit harsh interrogation of prisoners without specifying what techniques should be prohibited. Instead, it gave the president discretion to determine what techniques would violate international agreements banning outrages against personal dignity and other degrading treatment.