We welcome today's historic agreement between Senator John McCain and the White House.
The agreement reaffirms America's long-standing prohibition on torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment-categorically and without exception. In so doing, it upholds American values and safeguards the men and women who serve bravely and honorably in America's Armed Forces.
We commend Senator McCain and those of both parties who stood with him through months of unrelenting opposition from the Bush administration.
Ensuring that military and intelligence interrogators use proven, effective and humane interrogation techniques will improve our ability to obtain useful, reliable intelligence without doing violence to our most deeply-held moral convictions. It will strengthen international prohibitions that protect American troops, and will help to repair the damage to our national honor that has fueled anti-Americanism and compromised the struggle against terrorism.
The McCain amendment is an important first step. We hope it will not be the last. We call upon our government to undertake a full reevaluation of the treatment of persons captured and detained by the United States, wherever they are held. We must ensure that all of our practices are consistent with both our national interests and the values we affirm.
Finally, we continue to be concerned about related language in the Defense Authorization Bill which threatens to undo much of today's achievement. The so-called Graham-Levin amendment chips away at the ancient right of habeas corpus, restricting the ability of detainees at Guantánamo to have an independent court review of the factual basis for their detention. This language 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 a fundamental change in the law deserves.
We are particularly concerned about proposed administration changes that would make the Graham-Levin provision worse. These changes would seriously undercut the practical effect of the McCain amendment by barring Guantánamo 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 abusive practices.
If this language were to become law, it would create perverse incentives for the government to continue to engage in the very misconduct 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. Should this occur, today's victory will prove to be a Pyrrhic one.
Mark D. Agrast is a Senior Fellow, and Ken Gude is the Associate Director for the International Rights and Responsibility Program at the Center for American Progress.
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