By Carolyn Tackett
Today, on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, it is important for the United States to reflect on its painful past as an abuser, its failure to bring people responsible for torture to justice, and the necessary steps forward to ensure no one suffers the horrors of torture or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment on America’s watch.
The U.S. government’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques”—an unfortunate euphemism—following the 9/11 terrorist attacks has put national security at risk, fueled propaganda for terrorists, and left a stain on America’s reputation around the world.
A recent study shows that only 35 percent of the global public believes the United States was justified in its use of torture after 9/11. At its Universal Periodic Review in front of the United Nations last month, at least 17 countries urged the United States to strengthen its policies on the investigation and prevention of torture. Shortly before the December 2014 release of the SSCI torture report on the CIA’s post-9/11 use of torture, the U.N. Committee against Torture conducted a comprehensive analysis of the United States’ compliance with the Convention against Torture, identifying a laundry list of concerns ranging from immigrant detention policies to the treatment of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay.
The study found that, in sharp contrast to the international community, 58 percent of Americans approve of the post-9/11 torture program, making the United States “one of only 12 countries where half or more approve of their own government using torture against suspected terrorists.” This is despite numerous reports and statements by former interrogators who say that torture is ineffective and counterproductive. Perhaps even more troubling, nearly one-third of Americans do not have confidence they would be safe from torture if taken into custody by a U.S. authority.
The U.S. government needs to get its house in order—and it can start by ensuring the McCain-Feinstein anti-torture amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) becomes law. While there is already a blanket ban on torture and ill-treatment, past experience shows that the government needs to close loopholes to ensure the ban is enforced. The McCain-Feinstein amendment would restrict interrogation techniques to the time-tested methods listed in the Army Field Manual, and would require the government to provide the International Committee of the Red Cross timely notification and access to all detainees. The amendment has garnered strong support from intelligence, interrogation, and national security experts, and passed the Senate in an overwhelming bipartisan vote, 78-21.
As negotiations between the House and the Senate continue over the version of the NDAA that will be presented to the president, it is critical that both Congress and President Obama work to ensure the McCain-Feinstein anti-torture amendment is part of the final legislation. The United States should live up to its highest ideals—at the core of which are rule of law and respect for human dignity—and solidify an absolute ban on torture.