Congress on Wednesday moved to prohibit the CIA from using waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods on terror suspects, despite President Bush's threat to veto any measure that limits the agency's interrogation techniques.
The prohibition was contained in a bill authorizing intelligence activities for the current year, which the Senate approved on a 51-45 vote. It would restrict the CIA to the 19 interrogation techniques outlined in the Army field manual. That manual prohibits waterboarding, a method that makes an interrogation subject feel he is drowning. The House had approved the measure in December.
Republican presidential contender John McCain of Arizona, who was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, voted against the measure Wednesday. Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois did not vote. Democratic Florida Sen. Bill Nelson voted for the bill; Republican Florida Sen. Mel Martinez voted against it.
Arguing for the restrictions, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said the use of harsh tactics would boomerang on the United States.
"Retaliation is the way of the world. What we do to others, they will do to us - but worse," Rockefeller said. "This debate is about more than legality. It is also about morality, the way we see ourselves ... and what we represent to the world."
The legislation bars the CIA from using waterboarding, sensory deprivation or other harsh coercive methods to break a prisoner who refuses to answer questions. Those practices were banned by the military in 2006.
CIA director Michael Hayden said last week that current law and court decisions, including the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, cast doubt on whether waterboarding would be legal now. Hayden prohibited its use in CIA interrogations in 2006; it has not been used since 2003, he said.
Steven G. Bradbury, who heads the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, goes further, saying waterboarding is not now legal. The technique is still officially in the CIA tool kit, but it requires the consent of the attorney general and president case by case.