OpenTheGovernment.org strongly supports passage of Amendment 1889 to the NDAA, the McCain-Feinstein amendment. The amendment would seek to prevent the United States government from ever again engaging in torture, by requiring that:
--All interrogations by the United States government, including by the CIA, must comply with the standards in the Department of Defense’s Field Manual on Interrogation
--The interrogation manual must remain a public document in its entirety, and must forbid techniques that involve violence, coercion or violations of law.
--The U.S. government must give the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) prompt notice and access to all individuals the government detains in the course of an armed conflict
Torture was a crime when the CIA black site program began, and Congress reinforced those prohibitions several times under the Bush administration. The CIA was able to evade those laws with impunity by operating in secret. The Office of Legal Counsel secretly rewrote the laws against torture and cruelty out of existence. Prisoners were hidden from the Red Cross, and taken to black sites whose locations are still officially classified. The public was given vague assurances that “the United States does not torture” and detainees were treated “humanely,” but all the details about what the CIA was actually doing to its prisoners were hidden from the public, from Congress, and even from other parts of the Executive Branch.
It was only in 2006 that the black site program was formally acknowledged to the full intelligence committees and the public, and that CIA prisoners were allowed to meet with the ICRC. The government did not disclose the list of “enhanced interrogation techniques” the CIA was authorized to use until 2009; it did not declassify prisoners’ memories of their own torture until this year.
The McCain-Feinstein amendment, if signed into law, will unambiguously forbid secret prisons and secret lists of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Requiring that the United States government acknowledge who it is detaining, and what techniques interrogators are authorized to use, will be a powerful deterrent against any future President authorizing torture.
OpenTheGovernment.org continues to believe that more fundamental reforms to the classification system and the Freedom of Information Act are needed to ensure that government agencies cannot use secrecy to hide crimes and violations of the Constitution. Nevertheless, the McCain-Feinstein amendment would be a meaningful step in the right direction. We thank Senators McCain, Feinstein, Reed and Collins for introducing it.