Senate Passes Amendment to Ban Torture

In a very positive step, the Senate voted overwhelmingly for an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that bans the use of torture in all circumstances. The amendment, sponsored by John McCain and Dianne Feinstein, passed by a 78-21 vote (Marco Rubio didn’t bother to show up).

The Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly voted to ban the U.S. from ever again subjecting prisoners to waterboarding, “rectal feeding” and other brutal interrogation practices widely condemned as torture.

In a 78-21 vote, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle supported a new prohibition on “enhanced interrogation” practices and other novel detention methods.

“We must continue to insist that the methods we employ in this fight for peace and freedom must always, always, be as right and honorable as the goals and ideals we fight for,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee and an author of the amendment.

“Our enemies act without conscience. We must not.”

The amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would limit the entire U.S. government to the interrogation and detention techniques outlined in the Army Field Manual. That would codify in law an executive order delivered by President Obama days after he entered office in 2009 and expand the scope of a 2005 law that limited the Pentagon — but not intelligence agencies such as the CIA — from engaging in the harsh interrogations.

All of the 21 votes against the amendment were from Republicans, including Lindsey Graham. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul voted for the amendment.

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  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    In a 78-21 vote, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle supported a new prohibition on “enhanced interrogation” practices and other novel detention methods.

    I invented a novel detention method. Bookshelves.

  • comfychair

    What’s the point of reaffirming what was already illegal if no one ever bothers to enforce it?

  • D. C. Sessions

    Of course, this is moot since none of the methods used in the late unpleasantness were “torture,” and when “enhanced interrogation techniques” are banned they can call them something else too.

    When a private letter from a solicitor to his client can redefine the law, the law is meaningless.

  • JasonTD

    comfychair @2

    What’s the point of reaffirming what was already illegal if no one ever bothers to enforce it?

    Exactly this.

    Of course, real Americans know that treaties are just pieces of paper use internationalism to attack our sovereignty, rather than something we actually have to abide by.

  • JasonTD

    Should be “pieces of paper that use”. Didn’t catch it in preview.

  • llewelly

    If a crime has been made illegal twice, can the perpetrators be put away for twice as long?

    This could be an important question, 50 or more years down the road when the torturers are finally faced with the prospect of a trial.

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    Torture is already illegal. What they should be doing is enforcing the existing laws. Laws which some of them were at least partly complicit in breaking.

  • troll

    @2

    It’s the same reason why it’s also important when states repeal unenforceable laws against interracial marriage or sodomy. It sets a tone. Furthermore, an unequivocal federal ban is much harder to weasel around than something fuzzier like treaties and international law. Let’s face it; plenty of people view international law as something that only applies to countries that aren’t the US or its allies.

  • eric

    @2, @3, @7: I think there is value in enumerating some of the techniques as specifically illegal, which this looks like it does. That provides less wiggle room or ambiguity for future lawbreakers. I’m not saying they weren’t illegal before – I agree they were – but rather that mentioning them specifically provides some legal oomph that may have been absent before.

  • Artor

    Great! I’m happy to hear that something that has been illegal for decades is still illegal. Now, when exactly are we going to get around to prosecuting BushCo for torturing prisoners while torture was illegal?

  • http://www.thelosersleague.com theschwa

    ban the U.S. from ever again subjecting prisoners to waterboarding, “rectal feeding” and other brutal interrogation practices

    I look forward to the new names the CIA comes up for these techniques. How about “Moist questioning” (waterboarding) or “Reverse Suppertime” (rectal feeding) or “Novel Posture Time” (pain positions) or “Extended weekend bedtime!” (sleep deprivation).

  • Abby Normal

    I’m glad McCain isn’t running for President again. Senator McCain has been a strong voice against torture. Unfortunately the last time this bill was introduced he was Presidential Candidate McCain and was against it, which killed any chance of it passing.

  • D. C. Sessions

    Now, when exactly are we going to get around to prosecuting BushCo for torturing prisoners while torture was illegal?

    But it wasn’t torture. The Administration had a letter from a lawyer that said it wasn’t.

  • dmcclean

    @8

    Furthermore, an unequivocal federal ban is much harder to weasel around than something fuzzier like treaties and international law.

    Also in this case passing such a statute is also an obligation of the treaty, see Article 2, Section 1.

    Today’s action is OK, but I would’ve preferred to see the Convention’s definition explicitly adopted, perhaps with a reference to the Army Field Manual, to make clear that any revisions to that manual must comply with the Convention’s definition. We should also sign and ratify the Optional Protocol.

  • Michael Heath

    Authentic redemption requires the sinner to make reparations. I don’t give a shit what laws they pass, it won’t stop torture in the future unless we prosecute past torturers for the laws they broke back when they tortured. So just more posturing from some.

  • marcus

    While I agree with most of the cynical views expressed here, i still think it is a good and necessary step. Maybe it will at least slow the torture equivalent of the “Overton Window” on its slide towards further moral perfidy.

  • sigurd jorsalfar

    They really mean it this time.

  • jufulu

    My son’s thoughts on the matter was that the US will just farm out the torture to other countries.