"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."

Enact the McCain Amendment,
Then Investigate the Abuse and Torture Scandals

October 20, 2005

United for Peace of Pierce County urges the enactment of the McCain amendment, and calls on citizens to contact their legislators to express their support for the amendment.

On October 6, 2005, the United States Senate passed by a vote of 90-9 an amendment that Senator John McCain of Arizona proposed to a defense spending bill. One section of the McCain amendment forbids use upon persons in the custody of the Department of Defense "any treatment or technique of interrogation not authorized by and listed in the United States Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation." An additional section provides that "No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment."

But the U.S. House of Representatives passed a version of the defense spending bill without the McCain amendment. It is now to be feared that, under pressure of a veto threat from the White House, the amendment may be weakened or eliminated from the bill in the House-Senate conference committee. The conference committee will convene next week. We support the enactment of the amendment, and urge every American to contact Congress in order to express support for the McCain amendment.

The amendment passed by the Senate does not go far enough, however. In a classified document known as "the Schmidt report," whose conclusions were made public in July 2005, the Department of Defense has specifically concluded as a matter of policy that the Army Field Manual's "ego down and futility" technique permits such treatment as putting people on leashes and forcing them to perform dog tricks, forcing men to wear women's underwear, forcing men to stand naked with females present, and so forth. Thus the notion that is the premise of the McCain amendment — that the Army Field Manual ensures respect for human dignity and human rights — is false. The Army Field Manual should be revised to forbid such techniques.

As for the second provision in the McCain amendment, there are reports that the conference committee will be urged to exempt the Central Intelligence Agency from the prohibition on cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees. Three of the nine senators who voted against the McCain amendment — Ted Stevens (R-AK), Thad Cochran (R-MS), and Kit Bond (R-MO) — will be members of the Senate delegation to the conference committee, and Sen. Stevens was recently quoted in the Congressional Quarterly as sying that "he can support McCain's language if it's augmented with guidance that enables certain classified interrogations to proceed under different terms: 'I'm talking about people who aren't in uniform, may or may not be citizens of the United States, but are working for us in very difficult circumstances. And sometimes interrogation and intimidation is part of the system."

Such remarks are revealing. They underscore the systematic abuse upon which the U.S. national security state has come to rely, but which is impossible to square with the fundamental values of the American people, or with the founding principles of the United States of America.

Has anything done as much lasting damage to the image of the United States as the Abu Ghraib scandal? Yet despite the harm the scandal has inflicted on our national security by inflaming passions against the United States, no thoroughgoing inquiry has taken place. The executive branch has relegated investigation to military authorities, who have confined themselves to a limited investigation (the "Fay-Jones report") that ended in August 2004 with the conclusion that "the primary causes of abuse at Abu Ghraib are misconduct by a small group of soldiers and civilian contractors who apparently failed to respect the dignity of those in their custody, a lack of discipline on the part of leaders and soldiers of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, and a failure of leadership by multiple echelons within Combined Joint Task Force 7."

This comforting conclusion is contradicted by dozens of post-9/11 memoranda that have come to light. Many of these are compiled in a 1249-page collection published this year (Karen J. Greenberg & Joshua L. Dratel, eds., The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib [New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005]). As investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has written: "No amount of apologetic testimony or political spin could mask the fact that, since the attacks of September 11, President Bush and his top aides have seen themselves as engaged in a war against terrorism in which the old rules did not apply. Interrogating prisoners and getting intelligence, including by intimidation and torture, was the priority" (Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib [New York: HarperCollins, 2004], p. 46). UFPPC's Monday-night book discussion group, "Digging Deeper," will be studying these volumes during the coming month.

These books demonstrate that Abu Ghraib is only part of a larger problem. According to a report soon to be released by the NGO Human Rights First, "At least 27 detainees died in U.S. custody due to suspected or confirmed criminal homicides. Seven people were tortured to death. At least 141 detainees have died while in U.S. custody in Iraq or Afghanistan." Only one of these criminal homicides occurred at Abu Ghraib. Official inquiry urgently needs to shine its light upon the entire network of U.S. facilities where abuse has occurred and is occurring. These facilities include at least nine "secret" locations: CIA facilities in Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and Jordan, detention facilities in Alizai, Kohat, and Peshawar in Pakistan, a facility on the U.S. naval base on the island of Diego Garcia, and detentions of prisoners on U.S. ships, particularly the USS Peleliu and USS Bataan.

Investigation of these post-September 11 scandals is the only response worthy of the American people and their high ideals. United for Peace of Pierce County calls for a thorough investigation by Congress and appropriate judicial authorities into responsibility for the embrace of torture by the United States government. Enactment of the McCain amendment, as an official acknowledgment of the problem, is a useful first step.


"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."