McCain, Feinstein Offer Amendment to Curb Torture

McCain, Feinstein Offer Amendment to Curb Torture
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Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced legislation this week that would prohibit U.S. officials from using certain torture techniques to extract intelligence from detainees.

The measure, a copy of which was provided to RealClearPolitics, would amend the National Defense Authorization Act – currently being weighed in the Senate – to prevent U.S. personnel from using waterboarding or other enhanced interrogation methods not authorized in the Army Field Manual.

In addition, the amendment would require the secretary of defense, in conjunction with the attorney general and other federal agency chiefs, to complete a review of the Army Field Manual one year after the amendment’s passage and every three years thereafter in order to ensure that it “reflects current, evidence-based, and best practices for interrogation that are designed to elicit reliable and voluntary statements and do not involve the use or threat of force.”

The manual already bars the use of “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” against detainees. The proposed change to the NDAA would apply not only to Department of Defense personnel, but also to the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The issue, which has been debated often since the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, sprung back to the forefront last year when the Senate Intelligence Committee, headed at the time by Feinstein, released a scathing report that detailed controversial interrogation practices conducted CIA officials.

McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was tortured in Vietnam as a prisoner of war, and has been a vocal opponent of so-called enhanced interrogation. The 2008 GOP presidential nominee and his allies on the issue say techniques such as waterboarding act as recruiting incentives for terrorists, and are generally ineffective.

In January 2009, just after taking office, President Obama issued an executive order that banned the use of torture as an interrogation technique, only allowing for “safe, lawful, and human treatment” of detainees.

But critics worry that Obama’s successor could revoke his executive order altogether. If adopted, the McCain-Feinstein amendment would prevent the next commander-in-chief, when he or she takes office in 2017, from directing federal officials to use enhanced interrogation methods. 2016 presidential candidates run the gamut on their torture stances.

A spokeswoman for former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley declined to comment on the amendment itself, but O’Malley has staked out a forceful anti-torture position, telling The New York Times last year that the U.S. should put a “full stop” on torture. He also said at the time that the Justice Department should appoint a special prosecutor to hold accountable those responsible for torture practices.

A spokesman for Hillary Clinton’s campaign could not immediately be reached for comment. The frontrunner for the Democratic nomination disagrees with O’Malley on the prosecution of officials involved, however. “[They] were doing what they were told to do,” Clinton said last June. “There were legal opinions supporting what they were told to do.”

The former secretary of state and New York senator said during a 2007 presidential debate that torture “cannot be American policy, period” – a reversal from her stance just a year prior when she said extenuating circumstances (such as a “ticking time bomb” situation) could require a deviation from “standard international practices” on the part of the president.

On the Republican side, Sen. Lindsey Graham sides with McCain on the issue. In a statement following the release last year of the so-called “torture report,” the South Carolina senator and presidential candidate said the techniques used in the past were “counterproductive.”

During the 2012 Republican primary, the practice of waterboarding enjoyed broad support from many candidates, and is still generally popular among mainstream conservatives.

The amendment McCain and Feinstein put forth attracted co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle -– Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.).

A Senate Armed Services Committee staffer told RealClearPolitics it is not clear when the amendment will be brought to the Senate floor for a vote.

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