WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defying a White House veto threat, the U.S. House of Representatives voted on Thursday to outlaw harsh interrogation methods, such as simulated drowning, that the CIA has used against suspected terrorists.
On a largely party line vote of 222-199, the Democratic-led House approved a measure to require intelligence agents to comply with the Army Field Manual, which bans torture in compliance with the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war.
The measure, part of a sweeping intelligence bill, passed amid a congressional probe into the recent disclosure that the CIA destroyed videotapes of al Qaeda suspects undergoing waterboarding, a simulated drowning.
Many countries, U.S. lawmakers and human rights groups have accused the United States of torturing terror suspects since the September 11 attacks.
President George W. Bush says the United States does not torture, but the administration will not disclose what interrogation methods it has approved for the CIA.
In threatening to veto the House-passed measure, which now awaits Senate action, the White House argued it would prevent the United States from conducting “lawful interrogations of senior al Qaeda terrorists.”
House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer countered that the current administration had blurred the line “between legitimate, sanctioned interrogation tactics and torture.”
“There is no doubt our international reputation has suffered and been stained as a result,” Hoyer told colleagues.
Backers of harsh interrogation say it is needed to pry vital information out of enemy combatants. But critics say torture is inhumane and such information is often unreliable.
The CIA has told lawmakers they stopped waterboarding a few years ago, aides say.
The overall intelligence authorization bill that contains the interrogation provision faces another fight in the closely-divided, Democratic-led Senate.
The Army Field Manual provides 19 approved interrogation methods. They include isolating prisoners, allowing American interrogators to pose as representing another country and the “good-cop, bad-cop” interviewing technique.
It prohibits eight methods, including waterboarding.
Editing by Lori Santos