American Anti-Torture Act

Reps. Jerry Nadler (D-NY, indeed, my home district) and William Delahunt (D-MA) are circulating a letter to colleagues about their "American Anti-Torture Act of 2007." Time was one would assume an act with that title was some kind of scheme to prevent torture abroad -- some set of measures aimed at sanctioning regimes who practice torture or something like that -- though these days of course we recognize that Nadler and Delahunt are talking about preventing the United States from torturing people. The basic point of the act is to expand the McCain Amendment's prohibition on torture to all government agencies, so that, for example, detainees in CIA custody will also be governed by the interrogation standards called for in the Army Field Manual. Full text below the fold:

We urge you to join us in cosponsoring “The American Anti-Torture Act of 2007” to ensure a uniform, minimum standard for interrogations of detainees by the U.S. government. The American Anti-Torture Act ensures that individuals in U.S. custody are not tortured, a core standard already embodied in the Army Field Manual. In doing so, it reasserts basic American values as a basis for government action.

Congress took an essential step toward prohibiting torture by American personnel with the adoption of the McCain Amendment, the first part of which requires the Department of Defense to adhere to the Army Field Manual when interrogating detainees[1]. The Amendment had overwhelming bipartisan support. It was passed by a Republican-controlled Congress, winning the votes of 46 Republicans and 44 Democrats in the Senate and 107 Republicans and 200 Democrats in the House. The American Anti-Torture Act simply extends this first part of the McCain Amendment to all U.S. agencies.

The American Anti-Torture Act would thus ensure a single, uniform, baseline standard for all interrogations conducted on persons in the custody of, or under the effective control of, the U.S. Government. The bill would clarify that interrogation techniques that are prohibited for use by the military’s own field manual on interrogations are similarly prohibited if used by the CIA or other government agencies. Like the McCain Amendment, the bill would not apply to individuals in custody under a criminal or immigration law of the United States.

Torture is inconsistent with democratic principles of freedom and is a violation of the right to be free from cruel, unusual, and inhumane treatment at the hands of the government, a core protection embodied by the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

Moreover, torture has never proven to be more effective than other methods of interrogation. Indeed, many critics – including former CIA agents – worry that torture yields unreliable information and that the U.S. government’s apparent willingness to bend its own prohibitions on torture undermines our standing in the world. It aides our enemies’ propaganda against us.

Torture is abhorrent to American moral values and inconsistent with our deep adherence and respect for the rule of law. We should not make ourselves vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy, nor expose our troops to potential mistreatment by adhering to anything less than the standards of a civilized nation. By once and for all outlawing torture, we will be demonstrating our commitment to that standard.

We urge you to join us in cosponsoring “The American Anti- Torture Act of 2007” to reflect American values of human dignity, fairness, and the rule of law.

Well said.