Don't like limits on torture? Just change the rules

Is the Pentagon pulling a bait-and-switch on John McCain?

By Tim Grieve
Published December 14, 2005 1:50PM (EST)

John McCain's legislation aimed at preventing the U.S. military from torturing those in its custody ties the legal standard for appropriate interrogation techniques to the rules set forth in the Army Field Manual. As McCain's measure moves closer to becoming law, can you make a guess as to what Pentagon officials are doing?

Right. They're changing the Army Field Manual.

As the New York Times reports this morning, the Army has approved a new 10-page classified addendum to a new version of the Army Field Manual that would tell Army interrogators how to "walk right up to the line between legal and illegal interrogations." Some military officials said the aggressive tactics set forth in the addendum could make it appear that the Army is "pushing the limits" on interrogation in the face of McCain's efforts, the Times says. They predicted that McCain will be furious when he learns of the addendum.

To be fair, McCain has acknowledged that the Army Field Manual could change over time. But he probably didn't anticipate that it would be subject to a 10-page addendum on torture even before his measure becomes law -- or that the addendum would make it this far in the process toward final approval without anyone telling him first. Indeed, in a floor statement on his measure in July, McCain said: "The Manual has been developed by the Executive Branch for its own uses, and a new edition, written to take into account the needs of the war on terror and with a new classified annex is due to be issued soon. My amendment would not set the Field Manual in stone - it could be changed at any time. But it would require that the Congressional defense committees be informed 30 days prior to a revision. And of course, the revisions would have to be consistent with our laws and treaty obligations."

That's not exactly how the torture addendum came together, and the addendum itself wouldn't appear to be in the spirit of the legislation the Senate adopted 99-0. Maybe that's why one military official tells the Times that the Army addendum is "a stick in McCain's eye."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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John Mccain R-ariz. Torture