September 11, 2008

Senators Propose Adding Ban on Secret Detentions to Defense Bill

Bipartisan Amendment Would Allow the Red Cross to Visit Detainees Held in U.S. Custody

Washington, D.C. – Four U.S. Senators have offered an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2009 Defense Authorization bill (S. 3001) that would provide the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to detainees in custody of all U.S. intelligence agencies. The bipartisan amendment would effectively end the Bush Administration’s practice of secret detentions, which runs counter to the practice of our Armed Forces, our fundamental values, and international law.

This measure has also been approved by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence as part of the Fiscal 2009 Intelligence Authorization Act, which awaits consideration by the full Senate. U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a member of the Committee, sponsored the amendment; Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) cosponsored it.

“The Bush Administration’s practices with respect to detainees have caused lasting damage to America’s national security and influence around the world – and have not kept us safer,” said Whitehouse, a former U.S. Attorney and Attorney General for Rhode Island. “We need to put this right.”

Chairman Rockefeller said: “The national security of the United States is compromised and made weaker when we run a secret prison system closed to inspection. The security and safety of our men and women in uniform is paramount in our quest to destroy our enemies. We have learned in the years since 9/11 that secret prisons do not yield the results we need – they invite abuse of our own troops and must come to an end.”

“Secret detentions, like torture, are a violation of human rights and international law,” Senator Feinstein said. “This Administration, shortly after 9/11, decided to take the nation to the ‘Dark Side,’ a mistake that has cost us cooperation and support around the world in the fight against terrorism. Restoring access to detainees in U.S. custody ends the abhorrent practice of disappearances, starts to restore our moral standing, and strengthens our national security.”

Under the Geneva Conventions, the ICRC is charged with visiting detention facilities around the world, to ensure that prisoners of war and other detainees are treated with the respect and dignity mandated by international humanitarian law. In 2007, the ICRC visited 518,000 detainees in 77 countries. ICRC findings regarding conditions and treatment are treated confidentially and communicated only to the detaining authority.

U.S. Defense Department policy holds that the ICRC is presumptively authorized access to prisoners of war and other military detainees, and the United States has long argued against incommunicado detention. To that end, the U.S. State Department has repeatedly criticized governments for engaging in “disappearances” in its annual human rights reports. But under the Bush Administration, the United States itself engaged in this practice.

By effectively eliminating secret detentions, this bipartisan amendment would make clear to the world community that America is acting in accordance with its obligations under international law. Adopting the measure would also strengthen America’s ability to advocate for the appropriate treatment of Americans detained overseas.

The amendment, filed yesterday, reads in part: “No funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act may be used to detain any individual who is in the custody or under the effective control of an element of the intelligence community or an instrumentality of such element unless the International Committee of the Red Cross is provided notification of the detention of such individual and access to such individual in a manner consistent with the practices of the Armed Forces.”

Whitehouse, Rockefeller, and Feinstein have also worked to require the CIA and all other U.S. intelligence agencies to follow the Army Field Manual’s protocols on interrogations, which would prohibit the use of waterboarding and other extreme interrogation techniques, and to prohibit contractors from carrying out interrogations on behalf of intelligence agencies. Both measures were incorporated into the FY09 Intelligence Authorization bill. The Army Field Manual provision passed Congress as part of the FY08 authorization bill, but was vetoed by President Bush earlier this year.


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