The Senate is poised to vote on a measure imposing a government-wide ban on torture — a prohibition that would be bolstered by provisions to bring detainee interrogation policy out of the shadows.
The move, proposed by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., would require the Pentagon and all federal agencies to conduct interrogations in accordance with the Army Field Manual, which forbids the worst of the Bush-era “enhanced interrogation” techniques documented last year by the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the post-9/11 torture program.
Senators could vote on the legislation, an amendment to the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), as early as Wednesday, as they consider a long list of related proposals.
The measure includes transparency and oversight mechanisms that would subject the field manual’s section on human intelligence to public scrutiny, and would compel the army to publicly release proposed changes to the guidelines 30 days before they take effect.
The White House-created High Value Detainee Interrogation Group would be required to determine “best practices” for interrogation. And the Pentagon, Justice Department, Director of National Intelligence and FBI would be required to reassess the field manual every three years.
The amendment would mandate that agency heads provide the International Committee of the Red Cross with access to prisoners.
The battle over torture has become a highly partisan and, as McCain described it, “very combustible issue” on Capitol Hill. McCain, himself a torture victim while a prisoner of war in Vietnam, has enlisted one fellow Republican, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to co-sponsor the amendment along with Feinstein and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.
Human rights and transparency organizations are applauding the effort.
The group OpenTheGovernment.org released a statement calling the amendment a “meaningful step in the right direction.”
Human Rights Watch Senior National Security Counsel Laura Pitter said: “Requiring the CIA and other U.S. agencies to abide by one uniform set of interrogation rules will help prevent torture.”
She added, however, that these reforms wouldn’t be as effective in the future “if those responsible for torture in the past aren’t brought to justice.”
The amendment may fall short of a complete ban on torture since under the current version of the field manual, U.S. interrogators are still allowed to employ tactics that many would consider torture, including the use of stress positions, sleep interruption and sensory deprivation. A taskforce of medical ethicists urged the administration in 2013 to make changes to the manual, noting that it permits techniques that are “recognized under international law as forms of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.”
Photo of John McCain: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
(This post is from our blog: Unofficial Sources.)