The Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to prevent the military and all other government agencies from using torture during interrogations of prisoners, codifying a ban President Barack Obama issued by executive order shortly after he was sworn in.
The amendment to the annual defense policy bill passed 78-21, with only Republicans voting against it.
It would expand to the entire government a 2005 law, the Detainee Treatment Act, which banned the military from engaging in torture. It would also require the International Committee of the Red Cross to have access to prisoners being held by the U.S. government.
“Current law already bans torture, as well as cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee and a sponsor of the amendment. Despite that, Feinstein said President George W. Bush’s administration used “deeply flawed legal theory” to justify the use of torture, essentially going around the law.
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“Those legal opinions could be written again,” she said.
The amendment was co-sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee and a former prisoner of war in Vietnam who was tortured by his captors.
“I believe past interrogation policies compromised our values, stained our national honor, and did little practical good,” he said. “This amendment provides greater assurances that never again will the United States follow that dark path of sacrificing our values for our short-term security needs.”
Republican opponents of the amendment argued they do not condone torture. But they said it would be a mistake to require CIA interrogators to follow the basic techniques for the handling of prisoners of war set out in the Army Field Manual, which they said was limited in its permission of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques used to glean information from captives.
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“In the War on Terror, it is imperative we have interrogation techniques that are lawful, classified and beyond the Army Field Manual,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, who is running for president. “High-value targets possess valuable intelligence, and we should not limit ourselves to the Army Field Manual, which is published online and was never meant to be the exhaustive, exclusive system governing interrogation.”
Two other GOP presidential candidates – Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas – voted for the amendment. Cruz, who was the final senator to vote before it was gaveled closed, stood by himself before the dais for a lengthy period before casting his vote.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who is also seeking the Republican nomination for president, missed the vote, something he’s done several times in recent months.