Today, the Senate approved more funding for US military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq (see post article). Most would believe this is not too controversial (maybe Cindy Sheehan would disagree) but an added amendment promises to create a political firestorm. Sen. John McCain added an amendment to the defense spending bill that restricts US military personnel from engaging in any "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" to prisoners detained under US supervision. President Bush has threatened a veto of the legislation on grounds that it would limit America's ability to conduct the War on Terrorism.
Of course, no one supports the use of torture. This is not the issue. The President seeks broad authority to conduct operations and this bill puts a limit on that authority. Sen. McCain's own service is well known to most Americans. Enduring five years in a Vietnamese prison, McCain was subjected to brutal torture that impairs his ability to move his arms even today. While we could debate McCain's motivations for writing this amendment, the fact remains McCain is not ultimately responsible for protecting the nation's security, President Bush is.
We must also ask ourselves if this will have an effect on actually stopping torture or just give us a moral pat on the back. The amendment says nothing about what is expected of US private defense contractors, so hypothetically they would not be responsible to what is in the amendment. The US code of military law already harshly punishes soldiers who commit such attrocious acts. Simply observe the proceedings of those responsible for Abu Grab and the fate which awaits them. What results will this amendment ultimately create? I argue McCain's rhetoric will have little effect, even if it is commendable. What will have an effect is personal accountability and focused training of our soldiers.