The Truth-O-Meter Says:

Democrats in Congress "had control since January of 2007. They haven't passed a law making waterboarding illegal. They haven't gone into any of these things and changed law."

Newt Gingrich on Sunday, May 10th, 2009 in a television interview

Gingrich wrong on Democrats and waterboarding

Under pressure of a lawsuit, the Obama administration recently released memos on the interrogation of terror suspects during the Bush administration. The memos detailed techniques that included waterboarding, a simulated drowning maneuver widely considered to be torture.

Some torture opponents have called for the prosecution of Bush administration officials. Republicans, meanwhile, are firing back at Democrats in Congress, saying that they implicitly condoned the actions.

Democrats "had control since January of 2007," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said in a television interview. "They haven't passed a law making waterboarding illegal. They haven't gone into any of these things and changed law."

There is a grain of truth in his claim, but he conveniently ignores the actions of the Democratic Congress.

Democrats did pass legislation in 2008 that would have had the effect of outlawing waterboarding by restricting U.S. agents to interrogation methods outlined in the Army Field Manual. The manual specifically forbids waterboarding.

But President George W. Bush vetoed the bill and Democrats were not able to muster the two-thirds majority necessary to override the veto.

This was a big issue during the 2008 presidential campaign, because Sen. John McCain opposed the bill, even though he had said waterboarding is torture. At the time, McCain said he wasn't comfortable restricting intelligence personnel to the Army Field Manual.

It's worth noting that some elected officials do not believe that Congress needed to pass a law saying that waterboarding was illegal.  McCain, for example, said in 2007 that waterboarding already was illegal. "It's in violation of the Geneva Conventions. It's in violation of existing law," he said at a debate in St. Petersburg. After the Bush administration memos were released, McCain said the legal reasoning behind them was "deeply flawed," though he did not call for prosecutions.

So Democrats did try to change laws to end waterboarding after gaining control of Congress and initially passed the law. But they were stopped by a presidential veto. So Gingrich's statement that they " haven't passed a law making waterboarding illegal. They haven't gone into any of these things and changed law," is only true because of the veto. The Democrats certainly tried to pass a law that would have had the effect of outlawing waterboarding. We rate his statement Barely True.

Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.
About this statement:

Published: Wednesday, May 13th, 2009 at 5:24 p.m.

Subjects: Human Rights, Legal Issues, Terrorism


Thomas, HR 2082 , vetoed March 8, 2008

U.S. Senate, Vote on the Conference Report (HR 2082) , Feb. 13, 2008

New York Times, McCain Draws Criticism on Torture Bill , February 17, 2008.

PolitiFact, "Waterboarding one aspect of larger measure" , May 19, 2008

John McCain, statement on Office of Legal Counsel memos , April 22, 2009

Written by: Angie Drobnic Holan
Researched by: Angie Drobnic Holan
Edited by: Bill Adair

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