Washington — The U.S. Senate in a bipartisan vote Tuesday approved a measure that would prohibit all U.S. government agencies and their agents from using torture as an interrogation technique.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, sponsored the anti-torture amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2016.
Catholic and evangelical leaders in separate letters urged U.S. senators to support it, because it strengthens current law and requires all U.S. government agencies -- including the CIA -- to limit interrogation techniques to those set out in the U.S. Army Field Manual.
It also provides for the International Committee of the Red Cross to be given access to all detainees.
McCain read from letters supporting the amendment sent to senators earlier in June by Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, and by the Rev. Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.
Passage of the $600 billion Defense Authorization Act itself faced a tougher fight over caps on Pentagon and other spending.
"For people of faith this vote (for the amendment) expresses a widely held moral principle that torture is always wrong," said the Rev. Ron Stief, executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, which has more than 300 religious organizations as members, including Catholic, evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant, Christian Orthodox, Unitarian Universalist, Quaker, Jewish and Muslim faith groups.
"The faith community stood united behind the McCain-Feinstein amendment because torture is universally condemned by all religions. Ending torture isn't about politics, it's about who we are as a nation," Stief added.
In a separate statement, Matt Hawthorne, the national campaign's policy director, said the amendment "will prohibit waterboarding, confinement boxes, sleep deprivation, rectal rehydration and other forms of documented CIA torture."
He praised the Senate for taking "a principled stand against torture" and said "faith leaders stand with them."
In his June 10 letter, Cantu told the senators: "In Catholic teaching, torture is an intrinsic evil that cannot be justified under any circumstances as it violates the dignity of the human person, both victim and perpetrator, and degrades any society that tolerates it."
He said the McCain-Feinstein amendment "would help to ensure that laws are enacted so that our government does not engage in torture ever again."
In his June 8 letter, Anderson said his organization "opposes the use of torture as a violation of basic human dignity that is incompatible with our beliefs in the sanctity of human life."
"The use of torture is also inconsistent with American values, undermines our moral standing in the world and may contribute to an environment in which captured U.S. personnel are subjected to torture," he said.
Last December, Democrats in the Senate released a 500-page executive summary that outlined acts of torture it said were carried out by the CIA.
The full 6,000-page report remains classified, but the summary slammed U.S. tactics used against detainees in the so-called war on terror. It said some of the tactics were more brutal than first described, produced little information that prevented an attack and often resulted in "fabricated" information.
The intelligence committee began investigating the CIA's treatment of detainees in 2009. Committee members adopted the report in 2012, but it was not released till the end of last year.
At the time, Cantu called on President Barack Obama to strengthen the legal prohibitions against torture "to ensure that this never happens again."
Included in the provisions of the newly passed amendment is the requirement the Army Field Manual be updated regularly and remain available to the public "to reflect best interrogation techniques designed to elicit statements without the use or threat of force."
Cantu in his June 10 letter noted that in its uniform standards for interrogating people, the manual "echoes the Golden Rule: 'In attempting to determine if a contemplated approach or technique should be considered prohibited, and therefore should not be included in an interrogation plan, consider ... if the proposed approach technique were used by the enemy against one of your fellow soldiers, would you believe the soldier had been abused?'"