Make it official: No torture

This week, the Senate has the opportunity to do something profoundly important and long overdue for our country: make patently clear that the United States does not, and will not, torture.

A bipartisan group of 11 senators has offered an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would codify the Army Field Manual as the standard by which the United States interrogates all suspected terrorists in its custody. Further, the proposed amendment would give the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to all detainees held in U.S. custody.


Like these senators, we come from different political parties and divergent ideological backgrounds, but on this issue we profoundly agree.

This amendment should represent common ground where leaders from both sides of the political aisle can converge.  The proposed measure writes into statute the government’s existing, sensible policy that there be one standard for all interrogators throughout the U.S. government. That standard - the Army Field Manual – plainly delineates what is and what is not allowed in interrogations and it does so in an open and transparent way. These bright lines are not only helpful for our interrogators, but they also make evident to the American people and to the international community that the United States is a country that does not condone actions antithetical to the very ideals upon which this nation was founded.   

Some have expressed concern that following the Army Field Manual will unnecessarily constrain the interrogators in the U.S. intelligence community in a manner that will harm their ability to gain critical information.  While undoubtedly rooted in genuine concern for our national security, these apprehensions are misplaced. 

The highly trained interrogators in the greatest fighting force in history, the United States military, have been successfully gathering intelligence from suspected terrorists under the Army Field Manual for years. The techniques permitted under the Field Manual are proven and effective while also comporting with the rule of international and domestic law.

Indeed, a 2009 Special Task Force on Interrogation that included the Director of National Intelligence and the Director of the CIA,  among others, reviewed this issue extensively and concluded unanimously that, “the practices and techniques identified by the Army Field Manual or currently used by law enforcement provide adequate and effective means of conducting interrogations.”

Moreover, granting the ICRC timely access to all detainees in U.S. custody is not only the right thing to do, but it also demonstrates to the world that we have nothing to hide. It shows that we live by the values and the laws that make us great.  And when we operate in accordance with the principles we expound as a country, we solidify our credibility in the global community.  

We are not new to this topic. As members of the Senate Intelligence Committee in the years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, we received countless briefings about the very real threats confronting the United States from international terrorism. 

We also saw first-hand how tremendously damaging it can be, to the intelligence community and to the nation, when we deviate from our values, from our laws, and from what is effective for our national security. This was demonstrated in stark relief in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program and the use of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

We are hardly alone in our assessment that making the Army Field Manual the standard for U.S. government interrogations is a wise and necessary path forward for America. A wide range of non-partisan organizations which include retired Generals, Admirals, senior diplomats, and interrogators (including those from the CIA, FBI, Navy, Air Force, and Army), as well as human rights groups and religious leaders, are all championing the amendment.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCain20 years after 9/11, US foreign policy still struggles for balance What the chaos in Afghanistan can remind us about the importance of protecting democracy at home 'The View' plans series of conservative women as temporary McCain replacements MORE (R-Ariz.), the lead Republican sponsor of the amendment, is the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a victim of torture himself.

Speaking on this issue on the Senate floor last year he stated eloquently, “We have made our way in this often dangerous and cruel world, not by just strictly pursuing our geopolitical interests, but by exemplifying our political values, and influencing other nations to embrace them. When we fight to defend our security we fight also for an idea, not for a tribe or a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion or for a king, but for an idea that all men are endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights. How much safer the world would be if all nations believed the same. How much more dangerous it can become when we forget it ourselves even momentarily. Our enemies act without conscience. We must not.”

The Senate now has a historic opportunity to ensure that our country never repeats mistakes of the past and upholds the lawful, effective, and humane techniques that have received such widespread support.  The Army Field Manual, along with ICRC access, is what our intelligence and military interrogators have adhered to since January 2009 as they endeavor to keep our nation safe.  To ensure that this standard is used in perpetuity, it should now become law.  

Snowe served in the Senate from 1995 to 2013, and was a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee from 2003 to 2013. Rockefeller served in the Senate from 1985 to 2015, was vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee from 2003 to 2006, and chairman from 2007 to 2009. He is currently a distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.  Both are members of the Council on Foreign Relations.