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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Local Activist Helps Craft Legislation Banning Torture

James V. Roth, a longtime human-rights activist from the Twin Cities and a participant in the University of Minnesota’s November 12 discussion on the federal government’s torture policies, played a key leadership role in crafting the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Signed by President Obama into law on November 25, 2015, the NDAA places a permanent ban on the use of torture by US forces.

This is the first time that anti-torture language has been included in an annual NDAA. The amendment to the NDAA, the McCain-Feinstein Amendment, was passed early this year with bipartisan support, and it significantly strengthens existing anti-torture legislation—including the Anti-Torture Act of 1994 and the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005—in part by preventing the authorization of any torture program in the future. 

The NDAA specifies that any person in custody of US forces, which includes the CIA, can be interrogated only through techniques authorized by the US Army Field Manual on Interrogations, which explicitly bans waterboarding, forced nudity, stress positions, sleep deprivation, beatings, forced rectal feedings, and other forms of torture. The UDAA also requires that the Manual be made public, reviewed, and updated regularly to include our best understandings of effect and humane interrogation techniques, and it also requires that the International Committee of the Red Cross be granted access to all detainees under custody of the forces.

This permanent ban on CIA torture would not have been possible without the commitment of James Roth to fighting for human rights. Roth worked with the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2014 and 2015 to finalize the bill that would later become the McCain-Feinstein Amendment, a later version of the 2013 anti-torture bill he initially drafted to Minnesota’s members of the US Senate and House of Representatives. The initial House version of the NDAA had no comparable amendment regarding stipulations on torture.

Roth is a retired attorney and member of the Minnesota Peace Project, a group that lobbies Minnesota’s congressional delegation on military and foreign policy matters. He has been affiliated with various local, national, and international human-rights-related groups, including Amnesty International, the Center for Victims of Torture, Advocates for Human Rights, the Constitution Project, and Women against Military Madness.