From Amnesty International
Critical loopholes in the McCain amendment show that the once-clandestine practice of torture is now an official weapon in the War on Terror.
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BY ALFRED W. MCCOY
Alfred W. McCoy is professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is the author of several books, including the recently published “A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror,” “Closer Than Brothers” and “The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade.” He is also a member of Amnesty International USA.
Just before Christmas last, President Bush and Senator John McCain appeared in the Oval Office to announce an historic ban on torture by any U.S. agency, anywhere in the world. Looking straight into the cameras, the president declared with a steely gaze that this landmark legislation would make it ‘clear to the world that this government does not torture.’
This meeting was the culmination of a tangled legislative battle that had started six months before when Senator John McCain introduced an amendment to the must-pass Defense Appropriation Bill, calling for an absolute ban on ‘cruel, inhumane and degrading’ treatment. The White House fought back hard, sending Vice President Cheney to Capitol Hill for a wrecking effort so sustained, so determined that a Washington Post editorial branded him ‘The Vice President for Torture.’ At first, Cheney demanded that the amendment be dropped. The senator refused. Next, Cheney insisted on an exemption for the CIA. The senator stood his ground. Then, in a startling rebuke to the White House, the Senate passed the amendment last October by a 90-9 margin, a victory celebrated by Amnesty International and other rights groups. With the White House still threatening a veto, the appropriation gridlocked in an eyeball-to-eyeball standoff.
Then came that dramatic December 15th handshake between Bush and McCain, a veritable media mirage that concealed furious back-room maneuvering by the White House to undercut the amendment. A coalition of rights groups, including Amnesty International, had resisted the executive’s effort to punch loopholes in the torture ban but, in the end, the White House prevailed. With the help of key senate conservatives, the Bush administration succeeded in twisting what began as an unequivocal ban on torture into a legitimization of three controversial legal doctrines that the administration had originally used to justify torture right after 9/11.