The Senate approved an amendment Tuesday that would make it harder for future presidents to torture prisoners like the CIA did during the Bush Administration. As written, it “does not directly confront all the ways the CIA might try to circumvent U.S. torture rules,” Joshua Keating writes, “but it is an important step toward ensuring that the worst abuses committed by U.S. personnel after 9/11 won’t be repeated—even if those who did the torturing won’t be punished.”
Before the vote, I argued that it should be regarded as a moral test and a reaffirmation of a civilizational taboo. Now let’s take note of who passed that test and who failed it. The amendment passed 78 to 21. All 44 Democrats in the Senate voted for it.
Among Republicans, the amendment still won a majority, 32 to 21 with one not voting: Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who is vying to win the GOP presidential nomination.
Though the U.S. illegally tortured prisoners, some of them innocent, in the recent past—and even though none of those instances of torture took place in a ticking time-bomb scenario, the absurd hypothetical that torture apologists are always raising—these Senators have cast a key vote against important anti-torture safeguards.
Here are their names:
- Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a former U.S. attorney and state attorney general
- Tom Cotton of Arkansas, an Iraq War combat veteran
- Michael Crapo of Idaho
- James Risch of Idaho
- Daniel Coats of Indiana, who is not expected to seek reelection
- Joni Ernst of Iowa, who has served more than two decades in the Army Reserve and National Guard
- Pat Roberts of Kansas, a former chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, which oversees the CIA
- Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate majority leader
- David Vitter of Louisiana
- Thad Cochran of Mississippi, a former Eagle Scout and Navy veteran, and current chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee
- Roy Blunt of Missouri
- Deb Fischer of Nebraska
- Benjamin Sasse of Nebraska
- Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, who said during a congressional hearing into the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, “I'm probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment.”
- James Lankford of Oklahoma, who holds a graduate degree in divinity and was formerly an evangelism specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma
- Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who is seeking the GOP presidential nomination and worked to strip federal courts of jurisdiction to hear cases from Guantanamo Bay detainees
- Tim Scott of South Carolina, an evangelical Christian who is opposed to abortion, gay rights, stem cell research, and euthanasia, and once fought to install the ten commandments outside a municipal building where he was an elected official
- John Cornyn of Texas, a former state attorney general and associate justice of the Texas Supreme Court
- Orrin Hatch of Utah, who called Jay Bybee, a primary author of Bush era torture memos, “one of the most honorable people you'll ever meet” while defending him against torture critics who wanted to remove him from a federal judgeship.
- Mike Lee of Utah, who has opposed extending controversial portions of the Patriot Act as well as the indefinite detention of Americans in the War on Terrorism
- John Barrasso of Wyoming
The wrongheaded votes cast by these Republicans should not be forgotten. Challengers should question their moral fitness in future primaries—many reside in states filled with Christians whose faith teaches that torture is an abomination. And anytime one of these Senators seeks higher office, is considered for a presidential appointment, or seeks a leadership position on a committee related to national security, he or she should be pressed about his or her position on the abuse of prisoners. If unwilling to condemn torture in speech and deed, all “nay” voters should be denied any role that puts them in a position to enable torture in a future panic.