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July 15, 2016

Bolstering the Ban on Torture

We secured a landmark law solidifying the ban on this abhorrent practice

More than a decade ago, we began building a coalition of distinguished military leaders to challenge the damaging misconception that torture keeps us safe. Together, we changed the debate—and U.S. policy—on torture. President Obama said these generals and admirals “made an extraordinary impression” on him. That’s why they were in the Oval Office when he signed his 2009 executive order banning torture.

It was a major victory for human rights, shutting the door on torture. But we knew that without a public accounting of post-9/11 abuses, the temptation to reopen that door would persist. So we set our sights on the classified Senate intelligence committee’s report on CIA torture.

In 2014, we led a successful effort to secure public release of the report’s executive summary, which proved that torture was not only more brutal and more prevalent than Americans had been led to believe, but was utterly ineffective as an intelligence technique.

In 2015, we used the momentum generated by the report’s release to push for a law that would lock the door to torture. Our allies Senators John McCain and Dianne Feinstein introduced a bill that would ban so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques and preclude the kind of loophole lawyering that government officials had exploited to authorize torture.

Because our ultimate goal is to build a durable consensus against torture, it was important not only for the bill to pass, but for it to attract wide, bipartisan support. To that end, we mobilized the military coalition as well as a group of veteran interrogators to advocate for the bill.

In June 2015, the Senate passed it 78-21, a rare bipartisan victory in a Congress notorious for partisan gridlock. Senators McCain and Feinstein credited our work, and President Obama signed the bill into law in December.

It has been a long way back from the “dark side.” We’ll keep working to ensure that our country never makes a return trip.