US Senate votes to ban torture during interrogations

Senator John McCain (centre) joins Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (right) and other members of the Republican leadership in Washington.
Senator John McCain (centre) joins Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (right) and other members of the Republican leadership in Washington.REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States Senate voted on Tuesday to ban torture during interrogations, a measure aimed at ending brutal techniques that were used on terror suspects following the Sept 11 attacks of 2001.

The measure passed overwhelmingly, 78 votes to 21, with all members of the Democratic caucus and 32 Republicans in support.

They included Republican co-sponsor John McCain, who was tortured in Vietnam, where he was a prisoner of war for more than five years after he was shot down over Hanoi in 1967. "This amendment provides greater assurances that never again will the United States follow that dark path of sacrificing our values for our short-term security needs," said Sen McCain, who has pushed for years to end the practice.

The ban passed in the form of an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2016, which is under debate in Congress. The Senate and House would both have to pass the broader Bill for the torture ban to head to President Barack Obama's desk for his signature, but that is a question mark.

The White House last month said Mr Obama threatened to veto the defence Bill because it short-changes key administration priorities.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, who led a years-long investigation on the use of torture and released a startling report late last year describing the Central Intelligence Agency's use of brutal techniques such as "waterboarding" and rectal feeding, also co-sponsored the torture measure.

"Today's vote puts the Senate on record that there can be no return to the era of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques and that President Obama's executive order (against torture) should be enacted into law," Sen Feinstein said.

Should the amendment become law, it will "limit interrogations to the Army Field Manual", she added.

It would also require that the International Committee of the Red Cross be provided access to detainees in US government custody.