Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, U.S. Army, holds up a copy of
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Civil rights groups on Tuesday implored lawmakers to oppose Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte's effort to expand forms of interrogation of suspected terrorists detained by the United States, arguing that her legislation threatens to condone torture and other inhumane treatment.
Invoking the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, more than 30 organizations said Ayotte's amendment to a defense bill would "dangerously roll back" restrictions on interrogation techniques that Congress overwhelmingly approved in 2005 by allowing interrogators to use new methods beyond those allowed in the Army Field Manual.
The groups, led by the American Civil Liberties Union, stressed that coercive techniques such as waterboarding damaged the U.S. image worldwide and undercut relationships with allies.
The amendment "threatens to reopen the door to cruel interrogation techniques that senior military officers and interrogation experts agree are unnecessary and counterproductive," the groups wrote.
The amendment by the freshman New Hampshire senator would authorize new interrogation methods to collect intelligence beyond those established in the Army Field Manual, which specifically prohibits torture and degrading treatment. Ayotte's proposal would allow for a classified section to the manual, which civil rights groups say could be used to sanction more aggressive techniques.
A provision in the amendment would require that the methods comply with the 1985 U.N. Convention Against Torture and the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005. But the amendment also would supersede the executive order that President Barack Obama signed two days after taking office in 2009 that says prisoners "shall in all circumstances be treated humanely and shall not be subjected to violence to life and person (including murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment, and torture), nor to outrages upon personal dignity (including humiliating and degrading treatment)."
That executive order also nullified interpretations of the law issued by President George W. Bush's Justice Department.
The Senate resumes work on the sweeping defense bill next week and already faces a veto threat over several provisions dealing with the handling of terrorist suspects. The White House and several senior Democrats oppose a provision in the bill that would require military custody of suspected terrorists determined to be a member of al-Qaida or its affiliate and involved in the planning or an attack on the United States. The legislation also would limit the government's authority to transfer detainees.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other administration officials argue that such steps would restrict the administration's ability to detain, interrogate and prosecute suspected terrorists.
The White House Office of Management and Budget issued a statement last week saying it supported the broader defense bill but could not accept any legislation that "challenges or constrains the president's authorities to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists and protect the nation."