Friday, June 01, 2007

Nelson's Torture Vote

Florida's senior U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) is taking a drubbing over at Firedog Lake for opposing a Senate Intelligence Committee proposal "to defund CIA torture methods." Scott Shane of the New York Times reports on last week's secret vote:
The Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday questioned the continuing value of the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret interrogation program for terrorism suspects, suggesting that international condemnation and the obstacles it has created to criminal prosecution may outweigh its worth in gathering information.

The committee rejected by one vote a Democratic proposal that would essentially have cut money for the program by banning harsh interrogation techniques except in dire emergencies, a committee report revealed.
* * *
But the committee stopped short of using its budget authority to shut down the program. In a closed session on May 23, two Democrats, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Dianne Feinstein of California, proposed barring spending on interrogation techniques that go beyond the Army Field Manual, which bans physical pressure or pain. Under their proposal, the only exception would have been when the president determined “that an individual has information about a specific and imminent threat.”

The amendment failed when Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, joined all the Republicans in voting no.
That seems to be the bad news. But some wonder if that judgment may be premature. Over at Bakinization, Prof. Marty Lederman's main article gives additional details about the committee's action. Democrats (including Nelson) and two Republicans did authorize a Committee Report that includes these comments:
The fiscal year 2008 intelligence authorization bill is the first passed by the Committee in which all members were briefed on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. While the program has been briefed from its outset to the Committee’s Chairman and Vice Chairman, the Administration’s decision to withhold the program’s existence from the full Committee membership for five years was unfortunate in that it unnecessarily hindered congressional oversight of the program.

Significant legal issues about the CIA detention and interrogation program remain unresolved. The Department of Justice has not produced a review of aspects of the program since the Supreme Court’s Hamdan decision and the passage into law of the Detainee Treatment Act in 2005 and the Military Commissions Act of 2006. The Committee urges prompt completion of such a legal review as soon as possible, regardless of whether the program is currently being used. The Committee expects that such review will be provided to the Committee as a part of its ongoing oversight of the program.
* * *
More than five years after the decision to start the program, however, the Committee believes that consideration should be given to whether it is the best means to obtain a full and reliable intelligence debriefing of a detainee. Both Congress and the Administration must continue to evaluate whether having a separate CIA detention program that operates under different interrogation rules than those applicable to military and law enforcement officers is necessary, lawful, and in the best interests of the United States.[emphasis added]
So, a more charitable view is that Nelson has just received his first briefing about the details of the Bush administration's torture-and-rendition program from 2001 to 2005. But no one on the committee yet knows what, if any, changes have been wrought since "the passage into law of the Detainee Treatment Act in 2005 and the Military Commissions Act of 2006."

Nelson, no doubt, will say he needs more information before voting for a bill that would essentially de-fund "harsh interrogation techniques except in dire emergencies." Or, it's theoretically possible that driven by cold, calculated logic Nelson might say that since available reports like this, this, this and, most recently, this suggest torture really doesn't work it shouldn't be funded even for "dire emergencies."

One thing Sen. Nelson won't be saying is that he voted the way he did to keep himself in the running as a viable "tough guy" on the short list of vice-presidential picks for just about every Democrat running for president in '08.


Jamie Deal said...

Another thing Mr. Nelson can't say is that he voted to uphold the constitution and rule of law.

RightDemocrat said...

As a Democrat concerned about national security issues, I applaud Bill Nelson for voting against legislation that would have tied the hands of our intelligence agencies. The vast majority of Americans want to be protected from terrorists like the ones who were just caught plotting to blow up JFK Airport.

Anonymous said...

That was snark, right? Are you kidding me???????? if not.