OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Boehner backs NSA amendment vote

Boehner also held up the 205-217 vote as an example of his stewardship of the House, where he has vowed to allow the chamber to “work its will.”

ADVERTISEMENT
The amendment split both Republicans and Democrats, creating an unusual instance in which Boehner, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and conservative Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) all voted together in opposition.

While the measure failed, Boehner’s office blamed the White House for allowing it to come so close to passing.

McCain says Dempsey’s ‘classified’ response unjustified: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Thursday that the answers he received on Syria from Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey did not have any reason to be classified.

Dempsey sent McCain and Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) a classified response on Wednesday in response to 11 questions dealing with Syria and Afghanistan.

“I’m very disappointed that he responded classified because all the answers certainly did not deserve classification,” McCain told The Hill. “Unfortunately, it was classified, so I can’t talk about it.”

McCain got into it with Dempsey at his confirmation hearing, blasting the Joint Chiefs chairman when he would not give his personal opinion on U.S. military action in Syria.

McCain briefly threatened to hold Dempsey’s nomination, and the questions McCain and Levin sent were designed to help smooth over tensions.

McCain has remained critical of Dempsey, however, even though he dropped the threat to block the confirmation.

DOD nominee admits waterboarding was torture: The White House's nominee to become the Pentagon's top lawyer said Thursday that controversial interrogation techniques, such a waterboarding, were torture. 

"I believe under current law water-boarding is torture," Stephen Preston told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing to become the Defense Department's new general counsel. Preston is a former general counsel at the CIA.

Preston noted that he had "not had occasion to independently examine that question with reference to [CIA] activity" during his time at the CIA's Langley, Va., headquarters since the Obama administration banned the use of waterboarding and other "enhances interrogation techniques" in 2009. 

That said, "I believe that the state of the law is clear ... that water-boarding is torture. That's the law, in my view," Preston told committee members. 

Untold numbers of high-level terror suspects were subjected to waterboarding and sleep deprivation as part of CIA-led interrogation operations at various agency black sites in Asia, Eastern Europe and the Mideast. 

Critics have repeatedly claimed the techniques amount to torture and violate international war laws. They have also questioned whether the techniques actually generated actual, reliable intelligence. 

Supporters of the interrogation operations argue the Obama White House wouldn't have been able to order the killing of Osama bin Laden without the intelligence that the techniques produced during the George W. Bush administration.

McCaskill pushes back on sex assault measure: After being accused of standing against sexual assault reform this week, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) mounted a full-throated defense of her position on the best way to curb sexual assaults on Thursday.

McCaskill held a press conference with Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and a group of retired female service members to argue that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.) legislation was the wrong approach to fixing the problem.

McCaskill has personally been targeted for her opposition to Gillibrand's proposal by one sexual assault victims advocacy group, who published a letter in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch saying the Missouri senator was on the wrong side of the issue.

“This has been a narrative that’s developed that this is victims versus uniforms,” McCaskill said Thursday, referring to military officials who are staunchly opposed to Gillibrand’s bill. “That’s just not true.”

The New York Democrat's bill would take sexual assault cases outside the chain of command, which McCaskill argues will prevent commanders from fixing the problem.

Gillibrand says that it’s necessary because victims aren’t reporting crimes for fear of retaliation.

In Case You Missed It: 

-- Senate, DOD spar over counterterrorism rules

-- Dempsey confirmation vote set for next week

-- CBO outlines heavy job losses due to sequester  

-- UN: Syrian death toll tops 100,000 


Please send tips and comments to Jeremy Herb, jherb@thehill.com, and Carlo Munoz, cmunoz@thehill.com.

Follow us on Twitter: @DEFCONHill, @JHerbTheHill, @CMunozTheHill

You can sign up to receive this overnight update via email on The Hill’s homepage.