Senate Passes Amendment Banning Torture

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, gets on an elevator on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 4, 2015.

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Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, gets on an elevator on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 4, 2015.

The bill has little chance of becoming law if the White House vetoes the NDAA, but it is nonetheless a symbolic measure.

 A vote “to reaffirm the prohibition on torture” split the Senate Republican presidential aspirants Tuesday, revealing an intraparty divide in the War on Terror’s long debate on how to appropriately interrogate detainees.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted on an amendment by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain and California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein to expand upon a 2005 bill targeting the Pentagon to include all government intelligence agencies. The amendment, which would codify President Obama’s 2009 executive order allowing only interrogation techniques authorized and listed in the Army Field Manual, passed 78 to 21, over the opposition of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and most Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

But the amendment divided the four Senate Republicans intent on winning the White House in 2016. Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida were against it, while Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas voted for it.

I do not support telegraphing to the enemy what interrogation techniques we will or won’t use, and denying future commanders in chief and intelligence officials important tools for protecting the American people and the U.S. homeland,” said Rubio, who did not vote Tuesday. “I would have voted no on this amendment.”

Graham, in a rare vote contradicting his buddy McCain, reiterated in a statement that he opposed torture but argued that the amendment “went beyond that objective” and barred legal, classified interrogation techniques that are useful in obtaining valuable intelligence from top targets. He added that the manual is “published online” and “never meant to be the exhaustive, exclusive system governing interrogation.”

Paul, an amendment cosponsor, dismissed those arguments in a very brief interview as he walked onto the Senate floor. Asked why he supported it, Paul simply responded, “I don’t think we should torture.”

The amendment is unlikely to become law so long as the White House makes good on its threat to veto the annual defense bill. But it could serve as a warning to any potential president from engaging in interrogation techniques outside the Army Field Manual. As Conor Friedersdorf in the Atlantic notes, the advisers for 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney urged their boss to revoke Obama’s order. The vote makes clear where some of the top tier candidates stand.

Torture is wrong, unambiguously,” said Cruz in a statement. “Civilized nations do not engage in torture and Congress has rightly acted to make absolutely clear that the United States will not engage in torture. This amendment puts all of our intelligence, law enforcement, and defense personnel on the same page as they work together to keep America safe and our counterterrorism abilities strong.”

The amendment follows the December release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report, which charged that the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques under the George W. Bush administration was not effective in gathering intelligence. Every Democrat supported the amendment.

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