New Year, New Congress: What to Watch on National Security

As Congress enters its 114th session, this blog series addresses what we believe should take top priority. While 2014 brought progress on national security issues, such as the release of the executive summary of the Senate intelligence committee’s torture report and the uptick in transfers from Guantanamo, there is still much to work to do in 2015.

1. Solidify the Ban against Torture

2015 is the year to finally put an end to any possible future use of torture by the United States.

With the Senate report on CIA torture and detention after 9/11 finally in the public light, the country has many of the grisly and horrifying details of the torture and detention program. Human Rights First pushed for the report’s release, and after the release, we published a blueprint titled “How to Rebuild a Durable Consensus against Torture in the United States,” which lists a set of recommendations for both Congress and President Obama. They should, for example, enact legislation to close the legal loopholes the CIA and Bush Administration Justice Department exploited to declare various types of torture legal.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), former chair of the Senate intelligence committee and major proponent of the Senate report, has taken up the call for legislation, proposing a bill which would close the loopholes, restrict the CIA to interrogation methods from the Army Field Manual, and prohibit the CIA from holding detainees other than on a short-term, transitory basis.

2. Close Guantanamo

The prison at Guantanamo Bay is costly, legally problematic, and contrary to American values and our national security. It must be closed.

While the rate of detainee transfers out of the prison significantly increased in the last two months of 2014, 127 detainees remain. The incoming Secretary of Defense may be able to speed things along. Congress should use nomination hearings for Ashton Carter as an opportunity to press him on whether Guantanamo will be one of his top priorities in the coming years.

Human Rights First’s December 2014 blueprint, titled “How to Close Guantanamo,” lays out a detailed plan for closing the facility and accounting for all detainees, including those cleared for release (59 to date), those referred for prosecution, and those who have been designated for indefinite detention.

3. Pass a Narrowly Tailored AUMF against ISIS

With the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Shâm (ISIS), thus far the United States has relied on the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which authorized the war against al Qaeda and the Taliban—even though ISIS is a separate entity.

Human Rights First has proposed that any new AUMF name which specific group or groups it is targeting, include regional and time limitations, include a sunset provision for the 2001 AUMF, repeal the 2002 AUMF for the war in Iraq, and include reporting requirements to ensure greater transparency and congressional oversight.

Several proposals for an ISIS AUMF were put forward in Congress in 2014, and one proposal from Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) was adopted by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—an important step. The proposal is narrowly focused and would repeal the 2001 AUMF after three years. Congress should move forward on passing a narrowly tailored AUMF.

In 2015, Human Rights First will continue to advocate for the United States to conduct counterterrorism activities that respect and reinforce human rights, and will advocate for proposals that move the United States off a permanent war footing. Our blueprint, “How to Conduct Effective Counterterrorism that Reinforces Human Rights,” outlines what such a strategy.


Published on January 8, 2015


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