Strategy Memo: White House Efforts to Undercut Torture Amendment Continue

Yesterday the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly for a motion urging that the McCain Anti-Torture Amendment be included in the Defense Authorization Bill now being negotiated between members of the House and Senate. The motion was offered by Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), and passed 308-122.

The motion is not binding on the House conferees appointed to negotiate with the Senate, but the fact that each house has now gone on record in strong support of the Anti-Torture Amendment sends a powerful message, and creates even more momentum behind it.

Reports today suggest that the White House may finally have recognized that its efforts to weaken or derail the McCain amendment will not succeed. If so, that is very good news indeed.

However, the administration has not relented in its efforts to undercut the amendment by other means. It is continuing to press for changes to a related provision sponsored by Senators Graham and Levin which was inserted into the Senate bill with no hearings and virtually no debate.

Graham-Levin is already a seriously flawed provision: it chips away at the ancient right of habeas corpus, restricting the ability of detainees at Guant¡namo to have an independent court review of the factual basis for their detention. It should be removed from the bill and assigned to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, so that it can be given the careful consideration that such fundamental changes in the law deserve.

Instead, the proposed administration changes would make the Graham-Levin provision worse, undercutting the McCain amendment by:

“¢ Barring Guant¡namo detainees from applying to any court of law for relief from torture or cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment; and
“¢ Permitting the government to use evidence in court that has been obtained through the use of torture or abuse of prisoners at Guant¡namo.

If this language were to become law, it would create incentives for the government to continue to engage in the very practices that gave rise to the McCain amendment, and would make it impossible for the victims of such practices to present their claims before an impartial judge.

Congress should drop this dangerous provision and act immediately to pass the McCain Anti-Torture Amendment””without exceptions and without limitations.

Mark Agrast