America’s values are being tested today.
The Senate is expected to vote at 11:30 a.m. on an amendment “to reaffirm the prohibition on torture.” Sponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein, Jack Reed, Susan Collins, Jeff Flake, and John McCain, who was tortured by Communist forces in Vietnam, Amendment 1889 is intended as a rebuke to the CIA, which broke the civilizational taboo against inflicting physical and mental anguish on prisoners.
And it is meant to prevent future presidents from violating binding international treaties, United States law, and basic morality, as would reoccur if they followed the barbaric precedents of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and others whose legacies include water torture, rectal feeding, and death by hypothermia.
President Obama entered office having campaigned against torture and issued an executive order prohibiting it in 2009. But that order could be reversed on the whim of the next person to control the executive branch and its too-pliable lawyers.
In contrast, if the amendment passes the Senate, gets Obama’s signature, and makes its way into federal law, all federal agencies would be required to conduct interrogations in accordance with the Army Field Manual. And transparency provisions would prevent that manual from being changed under cover of secrecy. Put simply, the amendment would erect more obstacles to torture than Bush and Cheney faced on the theory that those obstacles proved totally insufficient.