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Military Leaders: Ignore Bush Veto Threat, Ban Waterboarding

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Thirty retired admirals and generals have penned a letter to key Democrats, urging them to defy President Bush's veto threats and pass legislation requiring U.S intelligence agents to follow strict standards for detainee treatment.

The letter - which is addressed to Senate and House intelligence chairmen John Rockefeller and Silvestre Reyes - urges the passage of Section 327 of the Conference Report on the Intelligence Authorization Act. The act passed the House this morning by a vote of 222 to 199 (only five Republicans supported the measure) but faces stiff opposition in the Senate. It would restrict the CIA from waterboarding by confining the agency to interrogation techniques permitted by the Army Field Manual.

"We believe it is vital to the safety of our men and women in uniform that the United States not sanction the use of interrogation methods it would find unacceptable if inflicted by the enemy against captured Americans," the military officials write. "That principle, embedded in the Army Field Manual, has guided generations of American military personnel in combat. The current situation, in which the military operates under one set of interrogation rules that are public and the CIA operates under a separate, secret set of rules, is unwise and impractical."

The Authorization bill comes against the backdrop of recent revelations that the CIA has destroyed tapes of its interrogation of two Al-Qaeda detainees. After which, CIA Director Gen. Michael V. Hayden, held private meetings with leaders of both the House and the Senate to discuss the matter and, presumably, assuage concerns.

The bill would, among other things, allow for new intelligence programs, fund global anti-terrorism activities, and even provide money to research climate change. But it would also effectively ban waterboarding and demand legal documents related to the Bush administration's interrogation and detention policies. Thus, while the measure passed swiftly in the House, it is likely to face objections in the Senate and ultimately may face a presidential veto.

"For far too long, Congress has been silent as a partner in the unchecked actions of this administration," Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-FL, said on the House floor. "In neglecting to do our jobs, we were failing the people of America. With this new majority Congress, we're again conducting the necessary oversight of the executive branch. With this bill, we're fulfilling our responsibility to give the intelligence community the tools it needs to succeed."

The debate over the Intelligence Authorization Act underscores, for some, a new political reality on Capitol Hill. In the wake of recent outcry over CIA interrogation techniques, Democrats increasingly feel like they have leverage over their Republican counterparts on topics of intelligence. "How much are Republicans going to rail against this and vote against this given the current environment," an aide to a top-ranking member told the Huffington Post.

Having the written support of thirty military men, he added, including Major General Tony Taguba, who investigated Abu Ghraib, only helps the cause.

Read the full letter below.

December 12, 2007

The Honorable John D. Rockefeller IV, Chairman
The United States Senate
Select Committee on Intelligence
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Silvestre Reyes, Chairman
The United States House of Representatives
Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Reyes and Chairman Rockefeller:

As retired military leaders of the U.S. Armed Forces, we write to express our strong support for Section 327 of the Conference Report on the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, H.R. 2082. Section 327 would require intelligence agents of the U.S. government to adhere to the standards of prisoner treatment and interrogation contained in the U.S. Army Field Manual on Human Collector Operations (the Army Field Manual).

We believe it is vital to the safety of our men and women in uniform that the United States not sanction the use of interrogation methods it would find unacceptable if inflicted by the enemy against captured Americans. That principle, embedded in the Army Field Manual, has guided generations of American military personnel in combat.
The current situation, in which the military operates under one set of interrogation rules that are public and the CIA operates under a separate, secret set of rules, is unwise and impractical. In order to ensure adherence across the government to the requirements of the Geneva Conventions and to maintain the integrity of the humane treatment standards on which our own troops rely, we believe that all U.S. personnel - military and civilian - should be held to a single standard of humane treatment reflected in the Army Field Manual.

The Field Manual is the product of decades of practical experience and was updated last year to reflect lessons learned from the current conflict. Interrogation methods authorized by the Field Manual have proven effective in eliciting vital intelligence from dangerous enemy prisoners. Some have argued that the Field Manual rules are too simplistic for civilian interrogators. We reject that argument. Interrogation methods authorized in the Field Manual are sophisticated and flexible. And the principles reflected in the Field Manual are values that no U.S. agency should violate.

General David Petraeus underscored this point in an open letter to the troops in May in which he cautioned against the use of interrogation techniques not authorized by the Field Manual:

What sets us apart from our enemies in this fight. . . . is how we behave. In everything we do, we must observe the standards and values that dictate that we treat noncombatants and detainees with dignity and respect.... Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong. Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary. Certainly, extreme physical action can make someone "talk;" however, what the individual says may be of questionable value. In fact, our experience in applying the interrogation standards laid out in the Army Field Manual (2-22.3) on Human Intelligence Collector Operations that was published last year shows that the techniques in the manual work effectively and humanely in eliciting information from detainees.

Employing interrogation methods that violate the Field Manual is not only unnecessary, but poses enormous risks. These methods generate information of dubious value, reliance upon which can lead to disastrous consequences. Moreover, revelation of the use of such techniques does immense damage to the reputation and moral authority of the United States essential to our efforts to combat terrorism.

This is a defining issue for America. We urge you to support the adoption of Section 327 of the Conference Report and thereby send a clear message - to U.S. personnel and to the world - that the United States will not engage in or condone the abuse of prisoners and will honor its commitments to uphold the Geneva Conventions.

Sincerely,

General Joseph Hoar, USMC (Ret.)
General Paul J. Kern, USA (Ret.)
General Charles Krulak, USMC (Ret.)
General David M. Maddox, USA (Ret.)
General Merrill A. McPeak, USAF (Ret.)
Admiral Stansfield Turner, USN (Ret.)
Vice Admiral Lee F. Gunn, USN (Ret.)
Lieutenant General Claudia J. Kennedy, USA (Ret.)
Lieutenant General Donald L. Kerrick, USA (Ret.)
Vice Admiral Albert H. Konetzni Jr., USN (Ret.)
Lieutenant General Charles Otstott, USA (Ret.)
Lieutenant General Harry E. Soyster, USA (Ret.)
Major General Paul Eaton, USA (Ret.)
Major General Eugene Fox, USA (Ret.)
Major General John L. Fugh, USA (Ret.)
Rear Admiral Don Guter, USN (Ret.)
Major General Fred E. Haynes, USMC (Ret.)
Rear Admiral John D. Hutson, USN (Ret.)
Major General Melvyn Montano, ANG (Ret.)
Major General Gerald T. Sajer, USA (Ret.)
Major General Antonio 'Tony' M. Taguba, USA (Ret.)
Brigadier General David M. Brahms, USMC (Ret.)
Brigadier General James P. Cullen, USA (Ret.)
Brigadier General Evelyn P. Foote, USA (Ret.)
Brigadier General David R. Irvine, USA (Ret.)
Brigadier General John H. Johns, USA (Ret.)
Brigadier General Richard O'Meara, USA (Ret.)
Brigadier General Murray G. Sagsveen, USA (Ret.)
Brigadier General Anthony Verrengia, USAF (Ret.)
Brigadier General Stephen N. Xenakis, USA (Ret.)