Senate Republican Torture Masters

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“No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.” ~ Senate Amendment 1977

Nine Republican members of the U.S. Senate have spoken: let the torture continue.

On October 5, the Senate voted on an amendment (S.AMDT.1977) to the 2006 Department of Defense Appropriations Act that would have prohibited the use of not only torture, but also the cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of anyone in the custody of the U.S. government.

The amendment was introduced by Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and had eleven co-sponsors: Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Carl Levin (D-MI), John Warner (R-VA), Ken Salazar (D-CO), Gordon Smith (R-OR), and John Sununu (R-NH).

The vote was 90-9.

Being amended was the massive H.R. 2863, which appropriates billions of dollars for the Defense Department for fiscal year 2006. This bill was introduced in the House on June 10. It passed in the House by a vote of 398-19 on June 20. Two principled Republicans voted against the bill: Ron Paul (R-TX) and John Duncan (R-TN). The bill went to the Senate on September 28, and passed by a vote of 97-0 on October 7. The bill is now in a Conference Committee to reconcile the House and Senate versions before it is sent to the president.

Among the amendments added to the bill by the Senate was the one by McCain. His amendment reads as follows:

At the appropriate place, insert the following:

SEC. __. UNIFORM STANDARDS FOR THE INTERROGATION OF PERSONS UNDER THE DETENTION OF THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE.

(a) IN GENERAL. — No person in the custody or under the effective control of the Department of Defense or under detention in a Department of Defense facility shall be subject to any treatment or technique of interrogation not authorized by and listed in the United States Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation.

(b) APPLICABILITY. — Subsection (a) shall not apply to with respect to any person in the custody or under the effective control of the Department of Defense pursuant to a criminal law or immigration law of the United States.

(c) CONSTRUCTION. — Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect the rights under the United States Constitution of any person in the custody or under the physical jurisdiction of the United States.

SEC. __. PROHIBITION ON CRUEL, INHUMAN, OR DEGRADING TREATMENT OR PUNISHMENT OF PERSONS UNDER CUSTODY OR CONTROL OF THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT.

(a) In General. — No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

(b) Construction. — Nothing in this section shall be construed to impose any geographical limitation on the applicability of the prohibition against cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment under this section.

(c) Limitation on Supersedure. — The provisions of this section shall not be superseded, except by a provision of law enacted after the date of the enactment of this Act which specifically repeals, modifies, or supersedes the provisions of this section.

(d) Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Defined. — In this section, the term “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment” means the cruel, unusual, and inhumane treatment or punishment prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, as defined in the United States Reservations, Declarations and Understandings to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment done at New York, December 10, 1984.

In offering his amendment, McCain also made some pertinent remarks:

This amendment would do two things: one, establish the Army Field Manual as the uniform standard for the interrogation of Department of Defense detainees; and, two, prohibit cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment of prisoners in the detention of the Government. It is pretty simple and straightforward.

I regret, of course, as all my colleagues do, that this amendment has to be brought up on an appropriations bill.

I can understand why some administration lawyers might have wanted ambiguity so that every hypothetical option is theoretically open, even those the President has said he does not want to exercise. But war doesn’t occur in theory, and our troops are not served by ambiguity. They are crying out for clarity. The Congress cannot shrink from this duty. We cannot hide our heads, pulling bills from the floor and avoiding votes. We owe to it our soldiers during this time of war to take a stand.

The advantage of setting a standard for interrogation based on the field manual is to cut down on the significant level of confusion that still exists with respect to which interrogation techniques are allowed. The Armed Services Committee has held hearings with a slew of high-level Defense Department officials, from regional commanders to judge advocate generals to the Department’s deputy general counsel. A chief topic of discussion in these hearings was what specific interrogation techniques are permitted, in what environments, with which DOD detainees, by whom and when. The answers have included a whole lot of confusion. If the Pentagon’s top minds can’t sort these matters out, after exhaustive debate and preparation, how in the world do we expect our enlisted men and women to do so?

McCain even explained how “abuse of prisoners harms, not helps, in the war on terror”:

First, subjecting prisoners to abuse leads to bad intelligence, because under torture, a detainee will tell his interrogator anything to make the pain stop.

Second, mistreatment of our prisoners endangers U.S. troops who might be captured by the enemy — if not in this war, then in the next.

And third, prisoner abuses exact on us a terrible toll in the war of ideas, because inevitably these abuses become public. When they do, the cruel actions of a few darken the reputation of our country in the eyes of millions.

McCain also introduced a letter signed by twenty-nine high-ranking retired military officers expressing their support for his amendment.

We strongly support your proposed amendments to the Defense Department Authorization bill concerning detainee policy, including requiring all interrogations of detainees in DOD custody to conform to the U.S. Army’s Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation (FM 34-52), and prohibiting the use of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by any U.S. government agency.

The abuse of prisoners hurts America’s cause in the war on terror, endangers U.S. service members who might be captured by the enemy, and is anathema to the values Americans have held dear for generations. For many years, those values have been embodied in the Army Field Manual. The Manual applies the wisdom and experience gained by military interrogators in conflicts against both regular and irregular foes. It authorizes techniques that have proven effective in extracting life-saving information from the most hardened enemy prisoners. It also recognizes that torture and cruel treatment are ineffective methods, because they induce prisoners to say what their interrogators want to hear, even if it is not true, while bringing discredit upon the United States.

It is now apparent that the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and elsewhere took place in part because our men and women in uniform were given ambiguous instructions, which in some cases authorized treatment that went beyond what was allowed by the Army Field Manual. Administration officials confused matters further by declaring that U.S. personnel are not bound by longstanding prohibitions of cruel treatment when interrogating non-U.S. citizens on foreign soil. As a result, we suddenly had one set of rules for interrogating prisoners of war, and another for “enemy combatants”; one set for Guantanamo, and another for Iraq; one set for our military, and another for the CIA. Our service members were denied clear guidance, and left to take the blame when things went wrong. They deserve better than that.

The United States should have one standard for interrogating enemy prisoners that is effective, lawful, and humane. Fortunately, America already has the gold standard in the Army Field Manual. Had the Manual been followed across the board, we would have been spared the pain of the prisoner abuse scandal. It should be followed consistently from now on. And when agencies other than DOD detain and interrogate prisoners, there should be no legal loopholes permitting cruel or degrading treatment.

The amendments proposed by Senator McCain would achieve these goals while preserving our nation’s ability to fight the war on terror. They reflect the experience and highest traditions of the United States military. We urge the Congress to support this effort.

The letter was signed by an assortment of generals and admirals, some of whom were former Vietnam POW’s.

So, who are the Republican torture masters that voted against McCain’s amendment?

  • Wayne Allard (R-CO)
  • Christopher Bond (R-MO)
  • Tom Coburn (R-OK)
  • Thad Cochran (R-MS)
  • John Cornyn (R-TX)
  • James Inhofe (R-OK)
  • Pat Roberts (R-KS)
  • Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
  • Ted Stevens (R-AK)

Since these senators will never resign in disgrace like they should, every Republican in these states should vote them out of office when they come up for reelection. Even Republicans who believe in Bush’s “war on terror” should join in defeating these Republican senators.

Of course, just because a senator voted “yes” on McCain’s amendment does not mean that he is against the United States going to war in Iraq. Torture or no torture — any member of the Senate or House who continues to fund this war should be voted out of office as well. But the amendment is a welcome sight nevertheless.

[I also might add that anyone who has read any of my articles about the government or the Congress knows that I am in no way endorsing John McCain. I have nothing but contempt for members of Congress — Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) being the only exception.]

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