The bitterly divided Senate came together Tuesday to ban the U.S. from ever returning to the use of Bush-era "enhanced interrogation techniques," now widely recognized as torture. By a margin of 78 to 21, the upper house passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would restrict the interrogation practices of every federal agency to those explicitly sanctioned by the Army Field Manual; a handbook that provides no entries for waterboarding, "rectal feeding," or any of the other innovative brutalities employed by the CIA under the previous administration.
It's been six months since the Senate Intelligence Committee, at the time led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), released a detailed report on Bush-era "enhanced interrogation techniques." Among the many gut-wrenching findings was realization that torture program "was far more brutal than the CIA represented to policymakers and the American public."
Soon after, Feinstein proposed a series of recommendations "to prevent the future use of torture by the government," and part of the California Democrat's agenda came to the floor today. MSNBC's Eric Levitz reported:
The policy, specifically requested by Feinstein in January, was co-authored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was tortured after his capture in Vietnam. "I know from personal experience that abuse of prisoners does not provide good, reliable intelligence," McCain said today. "I firmly believe that all people, even captured enemies, are protected by basic human rights."'
The Huffington Post called today's vote "a landmark showing."
That seems entirely fair, though it's important to emphasize that the outcome was hardly unanimous.
Democratic support for the Feinstein/McCain measure was unanimous, but among Republicans, the outcome was much closer.
To the Senate GOP's credit, a majority of the Republicans in the chamber voted against torture. It was, however, quite close -- of the 54 GOP senators, 32 votes for the bipartisan policy, 21 voted against it, while Marco Rubio skipped the vote altogether.
Looking closer, each of the top three Senate Republican leaders opposed the amendment, as did presidential hopeful Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
I'm glad it passed. I'm glad the lopsided margin was greater than three to one. But more than a fifth of the Senate still made the wrong call on an important vote against torture.