a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Torture commission, detainee treatment votes expected soon

Posted by Thomas Nephew on July 26th, 2005

Human Rights First is notifying supporters that votes on the Levin and McCain amendments to the Defense Authorization Bill are expected soon — “the vote is expected this week and might be as early as Tuesday.”

The Levin amendment, described here last week, would establish an independent national commission to review U.S. policies and practices on the treatment of detainees.

The Washington Post’s Liz Sidoti described the McCain amendments on Monday (“GOP Senators Push Detainee Treatment Rules“):

One of McCain’s amendments would make interrogation techniques outlined in the Army field manual — and any future versions of it — the standard for treatment of all detainees in the Defense Department’s custody. The United States also would have to register all detainees in Defense Department facilities with the Red Cross to ensure all are accounted for. […]

Another McCain amendment would expressly prohibit cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody no matter where they are held.

The McCain amendment might thus close a loophole identified by Marty Lederman in January, if it includes prisoners held by the CIA or other personnel not bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

I’ve adapted the e-mail I got from Human Rights First:

1. Call your Senator.
2. Identify yourself as a constituent and tell the staffer who takes your call:

I’m asking Senator ______ to support Sen. McCain’s and Sen. Levin’s amendments to the Department of Defense authorization bill, which would reform U.S. interrogation policy. The policies that led to abuse and torture in U.S. facilities need to be reformed. Please ask the Senator to support these amendments.

3. [Cheer up the good folks at Human Rights First by letting them know you made the phone call. Leave a comment here, too, if so inclined.]

For good measure, you can fill out this e-mail form supporting the Levin amendment as well, but phone calls are probably better at this point.

THANKS, Jim, Ted, Eve, The Editors. All you folks are calling, right? Thanks!

UPDATE, 7/27: The votes are likely to be delayed until after Labor Day, according to today’s Washington Post. Liz Sidoti reports:

The Republican-run Senate postponed fights with the Bush administration over the treatment of terror suspects and military base closings Tuesday after GOP leaders failed to derail proposals opposed by the White House.

I’ve seen no reaction from Human Rights First yet, so I’d say keep up the phone calls until further notice, it shows how many people care about this issue. But the votes appear not to be “expected soon” any more, so come to your own conclusion. Meanwhile, snail-mail letters to Congress and letters to the editor about the Levin and McCain amendments will also be timely again.

UPDATE, 7/27: An expert I contacted agrees that one of the McCain amendments is/was sweeping enough to prevent overseas CID (cruel, inhumane, degrading) treatment, even by CIA personnel. (Billmon had some doubts about this; see “Film Noir,” 3rd to last paragraph). On the other hand, these amendments are subject to a lot of, well, amending. A “presidential waiver” essentially gutting the McCain amendment was added and then dropped before the authorization bill was pulled. The post-Labor Day McCain amendments should be judged in part on whether the “CID by overseas CIA” loophole is really closed.

UPDATE, 7/27: Human Rights First e-mails a ” thank you” to everyone who called and helped:

Thanks to your work, the Administration can no longer sweep the torture scandal under the rug. Without the thousands of letters and phone calls from those of you who took action over the past several days, we might’ve hit a dead end yesterday.

But instead, the Senate sent a message to the administration that until it deals directly with the problems surrounding detainee treatment, the Department of Defense authorization bill will not move forward.

White House and Senate leadership on the other side, and we still helped fight ’em to a draw. Good work! And we’ll do even better next time. Thanks!

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