By Thomas Ferraro
WASHINGTON, March 11 (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush’s fellow Republicans in Congress on Tuesday upheld his veto of a bill to ban the CIA from subjecting enemy detainees to interrogation methods denounced by critics as torture.
A largely party-line vote of 225-188 in the Democratic-led House of Representatives fell short of the needed two-thirds majority to override the president.
Bush maintains that the United States does not torture, but has refused to discuss interrogation techniques, saying that doing so could tip off terrorists.
The CIA has acknowledged using a simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding on three terrorism suspects, including accused Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, but says it stopped using that method in 2003.
Waterboarding has been condemned by many U.S. lawmakers, human rights groups and foreign countries as a form of torture.
In voting to sustain Bush’s veto, Rep. Pete Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican, attacked Democrats for failing to approve a stalled Senate-passed bill that would expand the government’s ability to track foreign targets.
"Rather than holding a vote to give terrorists our (interrogation) playbook, Congress should be voting to strengthen the intelligence community’s ability to spy on them," Hoekstra said.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said Bush’s veto had degraded the country’s moral standing, undermined its international credibility and could expose U.S. military and intelligence personnel to the treatment.
The bill vetoed by Bush was a sweeping intelligence authorization measure. A key provision would have required the CIA to comply with the rules set by the Army Field Manual in questioning detainees.
The rules forbid eight interrogation methods, including waterboarding, electric shock, beatings and mock executions. They permit 19 techniques, mainly psychological, such as trying to convince detainees that cooperation will shorten the war and save their country.
White House press secretary Dana Perino hailed the vote.
"The CIA program has produced critical intelligence and helped us prevent a number of attacks," Perino said. "An override of the president’s veto would have diminished the intelligence community’s ability to protect our nation."
Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who was tortured while a prisoner in the Vietnam war and is now his party’s presumptive presidential nominee, opposed the bill.
"I think that waterboarding is torture and illegal, but I will not restrict the CIA to only the Army Field Manual," McCain said last month.
Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, competing for the Democratic presidential nomination, both backed the bill and denounced Bush’s veto.
(Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky)
(Edited by Alan Elsner)