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The Harvard Anti-Torture Coalition

How Torture, Once a Bipartisan Wrong, Became a Bipartisan Right

Posted by stoptorture on November 11th, 2007

A Timeline of Torture Flip-Flopping:

1988: President Reagan asks Senate to give advice and consent to his signature of the UN Convention against Torture.[1]

1993: Democrat-controlled Senate approves bill containing statute criminalizing torture by a vote of 95 to 4. President Clinton signs it into law in 1994.[2]

1994: The US ratifies the UN Convention against Torture, signed by President Reagan in 1988.[3]

1996: Republican-controlled Senate unanimously approves War Crimes Act, criminalizing torture and other violations of the Geneva Conventions. President Clinton signs it into law.[4]

2005: Republican-controlled Senate passes the Detainee Treatment Act by a vote of 90-9, banning cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees under any type of US custody anywhere. President Bush issues a signing statement declaring he may ignore the law.[5]

2006: Republican Senators lead negotiations on the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which is passed, gutting much of the War Crimes Act. The vote is 65-34, including 12 “Yeas” from Democrats.[6]

2007: Democrat-controlled Senate gives advice and consent by a vote of 53-40 to Mukasey as attorney general, a man who publicly declares his wish to avoid creating legal trouble for waterboarders (read torturers) and those who approved waterboarding (read torturers).[7]

[1] President Ronald Reagan signed the UN Convention against Torture on April 18, 1988, stating, “[The Convention] marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.”


[2] The Torture Statute criminalizing torture was enacted by Congress in 1994 and signed by President Clinton into law on September 13, 1994. The Senate voted 95-4 to pass the omnibus bill containing the torture criminalization on November 19, 1993. The measure was intended to bring the US into compliance with the UN Convention against Torture, which was ratified on October 21, 1994.

[3] Id.

[4] A Republican controlled Congress enacted the War Crimes Act in 1996. The Senate passed it by unanimous consent. President Clinton signed it into law August 21, 1996. The War Crimes Act criminalized violations of the Geneva Conventions to pave the way for prosecutions of foreign officials who tortured Americans.  The original bill was sponsored by staunch conservative Walter Jones Jr. (R-NC) in the House during the Republican-controlled Congress.  DoD’s general counsel declared full support for the bill and even suggested making the list of war crimes longer.  The Pentagon, opting to set a high bar for conduct, did not oppose the fact that the War Crimes Act applied to actions by US personnel.

[5] A Republican controlled Congress banned cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment to all detainees under US custody everywhere. The law also limited US military interrogations (though not those of the CIA) to methods outlined in the Army Field Manual. The vote was 90 to 9. President Bush purported to reserve the right to ignore the law through a signing statement.

[6] A Republican controlled Congress gutted most of the War Crimes Act by enacting the Military Commissions Act (i.e. Torture Law) on September 29, 2006. Negotiation regarding the Torture Law were concentrated in three Republican Senators. President Bush signed the Torture Law on October 17, 2006.

[7] A Democrat controlled Senate approved Mukasey for attorney general on November 8, 2007, without a filibuster attempt despite his failure to commit to meaningfully uphold either the Torture Statute or the War Crimes Act as evidenced by his refusal to declare waterboarding illegal.

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