WASHINGTON – Today, the Senate adopted a crucial anti-torture amendment as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2016. Senate Amendment 1889 was introduced last week by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and co-sponsored by Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) among several others. The amendment effectively bans U.S. officials from using torture techniques including mock executions, sexual humiliation, hooding prisoners and waterboarding by requiring they follow the U.S. Army Field Manual.
“This is the U.S. Senate’s first vote on torture in years, and it’s a clear and necessary legislative repudiation of the CIA’s horrific abuses,” said Amnesty International USA’s executive director, Steven W. Hawkins. “Without this amendment, abuses committed in the name of national security, such as forced rectal feeding and mock burials, would be all too easy for the CIA to repeat in a climate of fear-mongering about terrorism.”
The amendment will require all U.S. personnel – including intelligence officials – to follow the U.S. Army Field Manual as the standard for interrogations. It will also require federal officials to provide the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) with notification of, and prompt access to, any individual detained in U.S. custody or effective control. It also requires that the Army Field Manual be updated to comply with U.S. legal obligations and reflect “current evidence-based best practices for interrogation designed to elicit reliable and voluntary statements that do not involve the use or threat of force.” This is particularly significant because such updating is essential. In particular, currently “Appendix M” of the Army Field manual authorizes interrogators to use a combination of isolation and sleep deprivation indefinitely, which could amount to ill-treatment and with time even to torture. Such authority must therefore be withdrawn.
The legislation will require approval by the House as part of the full defense authorization before going to the president’s desk.
“Even as we continue to learn of horrific allegations of sexual abuse, humiliation and forced confessions, some political figures are trying to score political points by championing torture,” said Hawkins.
“Today’s vote is a powerful message to the world that the U.S. will not let its ban on torture expire with the end of President Obama’s term,” said Naureen Shah director of Amnesty International USA’s Security and Human Rights Program. “A decade after the atrocities of the CIA torture program, today’s vote reinforces that the U.S. unequivocally rejects torture as illegal and unacceptable. The fact that anyone running for office in 2016 would seriously contemplate a return to torture underscores the urgent need for this amendment.”
The U.S. is not alone in having a torture problem. Over the last five years, Amnesty International has reported on torture in 141 countries—three quarters of the world.
This legislation is one step of many that the U.S. government must take to guard against a return to torture and other ill-treatment and abide by its international human rights obligations. The U.S. government has not brought any criminal charges against those responsible for torture and enforced disappearances in the CIA secret detention program. Nor has the U.S. government withdrawn U.S. reservations to UN human rights treaties—reservations that the George W. Bush-era Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel exploited to write permission slips for torture and other ill-treatment.