WASHINGTON -- An unlikely cross-aisle coalition in the Senate voted Tuesday to outlaw torture, in an overwhelming affirmation that included quite a few Republican wild cards, despite the party’s tendency to back the controversial Bush-era CIA torture program.
In a 78 to 21 vote, lawmakers voted to tack an amendment onto the 2016 National Defend Authorization Act that will prohibit any agent of the U.S. government from using torture and will solidify the Army Field Manual as the accepted set of interrogation techniques.
The goal of the amendment, its supporters said, was to codify the Obama administration’s 2009 executive order that banned already illegal torture practices. If it hadn’t been codified, they said, the next administration, perhaps more amenable to harsh interrogations, could rescind the order.
So how did those 2016 hopefuls gunning to be that next administration come down?
Despite the best efforts of Senate Armed Services Chair John McCain (R-Ariz.) to pull his fellow GOPers behind the anti-torture legislation, there was no consensus among the Hill’s Republican hopefuls on torture.
Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) both followed McCain and voted for the measure. Cruz, though he balked at last year’s Senate torture report, has previously indicated that he believed torture was wrong. Paul has also blasted the harsh tactics outlined in the report -- which included waterboarding and rectal feeding -- and pushed Washington to take a moral stand against them.
Most striking of the 2016 field was McCain’s right-hand man, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), breaking with his friend and voting against the measure. Not only was the vote a departure from his political buddy’s, it also represented a noticeably different tone than the foreign policy hawk has taken in the past, when he supported the Senate report.
Graham, though, says his stance against torture hasn’t changed. He said he still thinks it’s illegal, he just doesn’t want to have the Army Field Manual -- a public document -- outline the only interrogation tactics available.
“I believe in the Detainee Treatment Act, I believe the Geneva Convention applies, and every agency of the government has to comply with the laws that exist," he said Tuesday. "I don't like having the Army Field Manual being the only way you can interrogate a prisoner.”
"I don't like advertising to the enemy everything we're going to do, so having a classified enhanced interrogation program that's compliant with the treaties and laws of the country is what I want,” Graham said. “And that would exclude torture."
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) was not in town for the vote. "I would have voted no on this amendment," he said in a statement. "I do not support telegraphing to the enemy what interrogation techniques we will or won't use, and denying future commanders in chief and intelligence officials important tools for protecting the American people and the U.S. homeland."
Mike McAuliff contributed reporting.