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US Senate Votes to Ban Torture in War on Terrorism

FILE - Demonstrators from the group 'World Can't Wait' hold a mock waterboarding of a prisoner.
FILE - Demonstrators from the group 'World Can't Wait' hold a mock waterboarding of a prisoner.

The U.S. Senate has voted 78-21 to ban the use of torture in the interrogation of terror suspects and other detainees held by the United States.

The measure codifies into federal law President Barack Obama’s executive order banning the use of what U.S. officials once described as “enhanced interrogation techniques”.

“We can recommit ourselves to the fundamental precept that the United States does not torture – without exception and without equivocation – and ensure that the mistakes of our past are never again repeated,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein.

The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Feinstein wrote last year’s bombshell report detailing years of abject abuse – from waterboarding to rectal feeding – inflicted on detainees captured by the United States after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

The legislation approved Tuesday would limit all U.S. agencies, from the Pentagon to the CIA, to interrogation techniques authorized by the Army Field Manual. It passed as an amendment to a mammoth bill before the Senate authorizing all U.S. military activity and spending for the next fiscal year.

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Republican John McCain, also helped write the anti-torture amendment. A Vietnam War veteran and former prisoner of war, McCain said he knows “from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners does not produce good, reliable intelligence.”

“Our enemies act without conscience. We must not,” said McCain. “We must continue to insist that the methods we employ in this fight for peace and freedom must always – always – be as right and honorable as the goals and ideals we fight for.”

Such thinking is not universal across America’s political spectrum. Some Republican senators as well as some of the party’s presidential contenders say, in extreme cases when American lives are on the line, U.S. authorities should have leeway in the tactics they employ to extract information from terror suspects.

Despite overwhelming support for the amendment, its immediate fate is uncertain. President Obama has spoken out against torture from the very beginning of his administration, but the White House is threatening a veto of the National Defense Authorization bill over some of its spending provisions.