UPDATED: On June 16, the Senate adopted the McCain-Feinstein amendment on a vote of 78 to 21. “An overwhelming bipartisan majority of the Senate just sent a message, loud and clear, to the world over that the United States repudiates torture. Respect for basic human dignity is a core constitutional principle. Senators of all political stripes reaffirmed that principle today, and TCP applauds them for it,” said TCP President Virginia Sloan in a press release.
ORIGINAL POST: On June 9, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) proposed an amendment to the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act strengthening the ban on torture. The amendment is cosponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.).
“We applaud Senators McCain and Feinstein for their tireless, bipartisan efforts to make sure that government-sanctioned torture and cruel treatment are relics of the past. This legislation is a critical step towards that end not only for the additional legal protections it would provide, but also for the message it would send about Congress’ commitment to our country never again repeating the interrogation-related abuses of the post 9/11 era,” said Ambassador James Jones, co-chair of The Constitution Project Task Force on Detainee Treatment, in a press release.
In 2005, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to pass the Detainee Treatment Act, which requires that all interrogations conducted by Defense Department personnel, or in a Defense Department facility, adhere to the Army Field Manual on Interrogation and the specific interrogation techniques it sets out. The McCain amendment takes the next critical step by applying that legal requirement across the board to all U.S. government interrogations outside a law enforcement context.
The amendment also mandates a review of the interrogation manual to make certain that it complies with all U.S. legal obligations and “reflects current, evidenced-based, best practices for interrogation that are designed to elicit reliable and voluntary statements and do not involve the use or threat of force.” Both the manual and any revisions to it must be public. These mechanisms are designed to ensure that the manual includes only lawful, humane, and effective interrogation techniques.
Finally, the amendment mandates that the International Committee of the Red Cross be notified of, and be given prompt access to, all detainees in U.S. custody or control no matter where they are being held.
In April 2013, The Constitution Project Task Force on Detainee Treatment — a bipartisan, blue ribbon panel — issued a comprehensive report following two years of investigation into the treatment of suspected terrorists across the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations. The report contains a number of recommendations aimed at safeguarding against a return to government-sanctioned torture and abuse in the face of a future crisis, several of which are furthered by the McCain amendment.
In separate letters, Task Force members Jones and Thomas Pickering supported the McCain amendment, as did Liberty and Security Committee co-chairs, David Cole and David Keene. Several human rights groups joined TCP in endorsing the amendment.
Last January, TCP released a poll on Americans’ attitudes towards torture. The poll found widespread approval across the political spectrum for strengthening U.S. laws against torture, specifically by making it clearer to the CIA and to the military what behavior is legal, and what is illegal, when they are interrogating people who may have information about terrorists. More than two-thirds of respondents said they would approve of such a proposal, with 75% of Democrats, 69% of independents and 56% of Republicans backing the idea.