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Criminal Torture Sanction In, Then Out, Of Intelligence Funding Bill

Silvestre Reyes, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, tried to do the right thing. He included a provision into the intelligence funding bill that would have not only reiterated the prohibition on acts of torture like waterboarding, electric shocks, sleep deprivation and mock executions, but would have held any member of the intelligence community who commits or attempts to commit these acts responsible with criminal sanctions of up to fifteen years in prison, all the way up to life imprisonment if the detainee died as a result. Medical professionals who participated in torture would also be held accountable with criminal sanctions as well.

Now, you would think that Reyes wouldn’t insert such language into a bill if it was not vetted through the process, because the worst thing for Democrats would be if they had to sheepishly pull that language out, thusly being seen as covering for torturers, right?


It took, oh, a couple hours for conservative outrage — that CIA officials would face criminal charges for the criminal act of torture — to successfully derail Rep. Silvestre Reyes’ (D-Texas) Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Interrogations Prohibition Act. The measure is now stripped out of the 2010 intelligence authorization bill, Politico reports, on order of the Rules Committee, which, of course, is controlled by Democrats. For good measure, the White House opposed Reyes’ proposal, according to Marc Ambinder.

Let the “not a dime’s worth of difference crowd commence with the bleatings in the comments. In this case, they’re absolutely right.

Surely Democrats will contend that the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 already bans these techniques, and if so, criminal charges are eligible for all of them. But Reyes would have made it explicit, and there was absolutely no reason to tank that. Except the paralyzing fear that comes over a Democrat when… a Republican… criticizes them!

Sadly, in performing this betrayal Democrats won’t get criticized by their natural antagonists anymore, who agree that no justice or accountability should come to those who torture in our name. Only us DFHs will raise a clatter. And everyone knows we cannot be listened to.

… Roll Call claims that the anti-torture language came from Rep. Jim McDermott, though everyone yesterday attributed it to the Chairman, Reyes. I assume it was Reyes’ call to finally insert the language, so maybe that’s the answer.

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David Dayen

David Dayen