(WASHINGTON, DC) – Today, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) introduced legislation that would strengthen the ban on torture and codify aspects of an executive order by President Barack Obama. The legislation, co-sponsored with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), would bar all federal officials from using interrogation techniques that are not authorized by and listed in the U.S. Army Field Manual. The legislation was attached to the Senate’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act.
Earlier this month, Reuters published details of Guantánamo detainee Majid Khan’s account of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in CIA secret detention, including sexual touching and forced rectal rehydration. From 2002 to 2008, the CIA subjected more than 100 men to enforced disappearances which, like torture, is a crime under international law. Many were tortured or subjected to other ill-treatment. To date, no one has been brought to justice for these crimes. Amnesty International USA has reiterated its call on the Department of Justice to reopen and expand its investigations into CIA torture.
“This legislation is a needed reform, as recent revelations of CIA torture again make all too clear,” said Amnesty International USA’s executive director, Steven W. Hawkins. “The US must take steps to guard against a return to torture as an official national security policy in all but name. This week’s revelations of Khan’s appalling treatment further underscores the urgent need for strong statutory authorities to guard against human rights violations in US detention and interrogation operations. This country’s continued failure to ensure accountability amounts to a de facto amnesty for torture and enforced disappearances.”
The legislation would also require federal officials to provide the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) with notification of, and timely 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 voluntary statement that do not include force or threats of using 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.
Sen. McCain’s previously introduced legislation passed by the Senate on interrogations, the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, mandated that all US military interrogations follow the US Army Field Manual on Interrogation. Today’s legislation would take that directive further by ensuring that the Manual be regularly reviewed and updated and requiring it as the standard for all government interrogations. Many abuses committed by US officials during the George W. Bush administration, including waterboarding, forced nudity and other forms of torture and other ill-treatment, are all prohibited by the Manual.
“Today’s proposal is a needed reform, but one that does not go nearly far enough,” said Naureen Shah, director of AIUSA’s Security and Human Rights Program. “While the legislation codifies two aspects of President Obama’s executive order banning torture, it does not include the order’s prohibition on the CIA’s operation of long-term secret detention sites. This effectively leaves the door open to future CIA secret detention operations should a future US administration withdraw the president’s order, potentially an imminent risk given next year’s election.”
The 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.
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Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning global movement of more than 7 million people in over 190 countries who campaign for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.