Wednesday, October 05, 2005

McCain amendments against torture

Senator John McCain is attempting to attach (or has attached, or has failed to attach; I'm unsure of the status) an amendment to a Department of Defense Appropriations bill that would do two things:
(1) establish the Army Field Manual as the uniform standard for the interrogation of Department of Defense detainees and
(2) prohibit cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of persons in the detention of the U.S. government.
Senator McCain gave a speech on the Senate floor today outlining the amendments and why he feels they should be supported; it's good reading. Here are a few excerpts (skip to here if you don't want to read the quotes):
"Mr. President, to fight terrorism we need intelligence. That much is obvious. What should also be obvious is that the intelligence we collect must be reliable and acquired humanely, under clear standards understood by all our fighting men and women. To do differently would not only offend our values as Americans, but undermine our war effort, because abuse of prisoners harms -- not helps -- us 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. American values should win against all others in any war of ideas, and we can't let prisoner abuse tarnish our image.


"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. And 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?


"The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, states simply that 'No one shall be subject to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.' The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the U.S. is a signatory, states the same. The binding Convention Against Torture, negotiated by the Reagan administration and ratified by the Senate, prohibits cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. On last year's DOD Authorization bill, the Senate passed a bipartisan amendment reaffirming that no detainee in U.S. custody can be subject to torture or cruel treatment, as the U.S. has long defined those terms. All of this seems to be common sense, in accordance with longstanding American values.

"But since last year's DOD bill, a strange legal determination was made that the prohibition in the Convention Against Torture against cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment does not legally apply to foreigners held outside the U.S. They can, apparently, be treated inhumanely. This is the administration's position, even though Judge Abe Soafer, who negotiated the Convention Against Torture for President Reagan, said in a recent letter that the Reagan administration never intended the prohibition against cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment to apply only on U.S. soil.

"What all this means is that America is the only country in the world that asserts a legal right to engage in cruel and inhuman treatment. But the crazy thing is that it is not even necessary, because the Administration has said that it will not engage in cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment as a matter of policy."
So, all in all, this sounds like an extremely sane amendment. After all, who could possibly oppose legislation clarifying that the US will not torture prisoners?

Well, George W. Bush, for one. He's threatening a veto.

[Update 10/6/05: No sooner do I post on the topic than I find this on CNN: the senate has approved the appropriations bill, complete with McCain's amendment (by a 90-9 vote).]

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