Girding for a potential fight with the Bush administration, supporters of an explicit ban on torture of prisoners of war by U.S. interrogators threatened Friday to include the prohibition in nearly every bill the Senate considers until it becomes law.
The no-torture wording, which proponents say is supported by majorities in both houses of Congress, was included last month in the Senate’s version of a military spending bill. The measure’s final form is being negotiated with the House, and the White House is pushing for either a rewording or a deletion of the torture ban.
On Friday, at the urging of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the Senate by a voice vote added the ban to a related military bill as a backup.
“If necessary — and I sincerely hope it is not — I and the cosponsors of this amendment will seek to add it to every piece of important legislation voted on in the Senate until the will of a substantial bipartisan majority in both houses of Congress prevails,” McCain said on the Senate floor. “Let no one doubt our determination.”
The ban would establish the Army Field Manual as the guiding authority in interrogations and prohibit “cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment” of prisoners.
The Bush administration has sought to exempt the CIA from the ban.
McCain’s stature in the fight is enhanced because he was tortured while he was a prisoner during the Vietnam War. When the Senate voted to include the ban in the military spending bill last month, it was approved overwhelmingly, 90 to 9.
The House’s version of the spending bill does not contain the torture ban. But Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, the ranking Democrat on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, this week urged his colleagues to accept the Senate provision.
The provision would counter the Bush administration’s contention that conditions placed on the treatment of prisoners of war in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other international treaties signed by the United States do not apply to foreigners held overseas.
The prisoners “can, apparently, be treated inhumanely,” McCain said. “This means that America is the only country in the world that asserts a legal right to engage in cruel and inhumane treatment.”
President Bush initially threatened to veto the “must-pass” spending bill for the Pentagon if it contained the Senate provision. Later, he sought only to exempt the CIA from the ban.
McCain called that proposal “totally unacceptable.”
Vice President Dick Cheney made a rare personal appeal for Congress to allow the CIA exemption during a meeting with Republican senators this week.
Opponents of the McCain language contend that setting no-torture ground rules would signal to prisoners that they have little to fear during interrogations, discouraging them from providing information on potential security threats.
Prisoners captured during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq “know what we do by virtue of interrogation manuals and procedures,” Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita said Thursday. “And they are trained to resist. So there’s a perception that the kind of rigidity that comes with these kinds of amendments could restrict the president’s flexibility in the global war on terror, and anything that restricts our ability to engage this highly agile adversary is not desirable.”