Daily Breeze

October 10, 2005

Harman pushes House bill prohibiting prisoner abuse
Patterned after a Senate measure, it "would clarify the rules governing interrogations" by troops.

By Toby Eckert
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. Jane Harman and a bipartisan group of House lawmakers Friday introduced legislation to prohibit abusive acts against detainees like those used in Iraq, following a similar move by the Senate that defied President Bush.

The House effort could increase pressure on Bush, who has threatened to veto such legislation.

The bill introduced by Harman, a South Bay lawmaker who is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, would prohibit "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" of people in U.S. custody.

The language is identical to an amendment that senators attached to a defense spending bill Wednesday on a 90-9 vote.

It reflects the high level of concern in Congress about well-documented reports of abuse of detainees at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"Our troops and intelligence personnel have been forced to operate in a fog of law -- a patchwork of post 9-11 legal memos and policies that appeared to have condoned cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment," Harman said. "This legislation would clarify the rules governing interrogations so that there can be no doubt what conduct is permitted."

Human rights groups have applauded the congressional effort. But the White House issued a statement saying the legislation would "restrict the president's authority to protect Americans effectively from terrorist attack and bringing terrorists to justice."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said "some of the language ... we believe is unnecessary and duplicative."

Harman noted that the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the authority to "make rules concerning captures on land and water."

The version of the defense-spending bill the House passed did not include the prisoner-abuse provision.

It is likely to be a subject of negotiation when lawmakers from the two chambers meet to reconcile differences over the legislation.

House Republican leaders have resisted attaching the language to the spending measure. Harman said she spoke with an aide to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., about the issue, but "I don't have an answer."

"The White House is opposed, and I don't know whether that will affect what the speaker does or not," she said.

Harman called her legislation a "place holder" that could be attached to another bill. She will also work on a "motion to instruct" the House negotiators to accept the Senate amendment to the spending bill.

"The point of the separate bill is to show that there is bipartisan support in the House for what the Senate did," she said.

Co-sponsors of the bill include Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., Ike Skelton, D-Mo., Mike Castle, R-Del., John Conyers, D-Mich., Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Norman Dicks, D-Wash., and Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif.

The legislation cites U.S. constitutional safeguards against cruel and unusual punishment and international treaties against torture.

"Coercion doesn't work," Harman said. "We want to interrogate people effectively."