Senate Passes National Defense Authorization Act Solidifying Ban on Torture

Washington, D.C. – Today the Senate passed an updated defense authorization bill following President Obama’s veto last month. Human Rights First praises a landmark provision in the bill that further reinforces the ban on torture. However, the organization notes that other provisions in the bill will severely hamper President Obama’s ability to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay by the end of his term in office.

“Congress has finally closed the door on a dark chapter in American history, in which lawyers and those in positions of leadership compromised our nation’s values,” said Human Rights First’s Raha Wala. “In spearheading this amendment to solidify the ban on torture, Senators McCain and Feinstein were able to ensure that cruel and inhuman treatment is never again the official policy of the United States.”

The legislation is supported by dozens of intelligence and interrogation professionals and retired generals and admirals, including former Director of the CIA Gen. David Petraeus and Frank Anderson, a 26-year CIA veteran and former chief of the CIA’s Near East and South Asia Division.

“By passing this provision, Congress has reaffirmed what the intelligence community has known for a long time: that national security is best served by humane interrogation, and that torture is ineffective in gaining actionable intelligence,“ said Anderson.

The amendment, designed to prevent any future administration from authorizing torture and other cruelty that violates domestic or international law, will:

  • Restrict the intelligence community—and the CIA in particular—to interrogation methods articulated in the Army Field Manual; and
  • Require that the International Committee of the Red Cross be provided notification of and access to detainees held in U.S. custody.

Last month President Obama vetoed an earlier version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) over language that would make it more difficult to shutter the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Human Rights First urges the president to present a plan to Congress detailing the steps the administration intends to take to close Guantanamo. The administration should also immediately increase the pace at which cleared detainees are transferred and other detainees are given administrative reviews of their statuses to determine if they can be transferred.

Last week 32 of the nation’s most respected retired generals and admirals urged President Obama to submit a plan to Congress detailing actions the administration will take to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Signatories the letter are members of a larger group of retired military leaders who have long advocated for closing Guantanamo. Many of them stood behind President Obama on his second day in office in 2009 as he signed the executive order to close Guantanamo within one year.

There are 112 detainees at the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. Military leaders and national security experts agree that the facility harms national security and should be closed. Fifty-two of the remaining detainees are cleared for transfer, and another 47 are eligible for Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearings. Human Rights First notes that PRB reviews should have been completed for every eligible detainee over three years ago. Detainees who are not cleared for transfer, or who will face prosecution, will likely need to be transferred to the United States in order to close Guantanamo.

“Closing Guantanamo is one piece of unfinished business that will haunt President Obama’s legacy if unfulfilled,” noted Wala. “We look forward to seeing the administration’s plan to close Guantanamo in the coming days, and hope that it represents renewed vigor for finally finishing the job.”


Published on November 10, 2015


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