Order Code RS22312
Updated January 24, 2006
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Interrogation of Detainees:
Overview of the McCain Amendment
Michael John Garcia
American Law Division
Recent controversy has arisen regarding U.S. treatment of enemy combatants and
terrorist suspects detained in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations, and whether such
treatment complies with U.S. statutes and treaties such as the U.N. Convention Against
Torture and Other Forms of Cruel and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
(CAT). Congress recently approved additional guidelines concerning the treatment of
detainees. The Department of Defense, Emergency Supplemental Appropriations to
Address Hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, and Pandemic Influenza Act, 2006 (P.L. 109148), and the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2006 (P.L. 109-163) contain
identical provisions that (1) require Department of Defense (DOD) personnel to employ
United States Army Field Manual guidelines while interrogating detainees, and (2)
prohibit the “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment of persons under
the detention, custody, or control of the United States Government.” These provisions,
added to the defense appropriations and authorization bills via amendments introduced
by Senator John McCain, have popularly been referred to as “the McCain amendment.”
This report discusses the McCain amendment, as modified and subsequently enacted
into law. For a discussion of the provisions in the defense appropriations and
authorization bills that limit judicial review of challenges to U.S. detention policy, see
CRS Report RL33180, Guantanamo Detainees: Habeas Corpus Challenges in Federal
Court, by Jennifer K. Elsea and Kenneth Thomas.
Amidst controversy regarding U.S. treatment of enemy combatants and terrorist
suspects detained in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations, Congress recently approved
additional guidelines concerning the treatment of persons in U.S. custody and control. The
National Defense Authorization Act for FY2006 (P.L. 109-163), and the Department of
Defense, Emergency Supplemental Appropriations to Address Hurricanes in the Gulf of
Mexico, and Pandemic Influenza Act, 2006 (P.L. 109-148) contain identical provisions
that (1) require Department of Defense (DOD) personnel to employ United States Army
Field Manual guidelines while interrogating detainees, and (2) prohibit the “cruel,
inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment of persons under the detention, custody,
or control of the United States Government.” These provisions, added to the defense
appropriations and authorization bills via amendments introduced by Senator John
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
McCain, have popularly been referred to as “the McCain amendment.”1 As subsequently
modified, the McCain amendment also provides certain legal protections and assistance
to U.S. personnel engaged in the authorized interrogation of a terrorist suspect.
Summary and Analysis of the McCain Amendment
The McCain amendment, as modified and enacted into law, contains three
provisions, which are described in the following sections.
Applying U.S. Army Field Manual Standards. The first provision of the
McCain amendment provides that no person in the custody or effective control of the
DOD or detained in a DOD facility shall be subject to any interrogation treatment or
technique that is not authorized by and listed in the United States Army Field Manual on
Intelligence Interrogation.2 An exception to this general requirement is made for
individuals being held pursuant to U.S. criminal or immigration laws. The McCain
amendment does not require non-DOD agencies, such as non-military intelligence and
law enforcement agencies, to employ Field Manual guidelines with respect to
interrogations they conduct.
The United States Army Field Manual addresses intelligence interrogation under FM
34-52, detailing certain procedures for the treatment and questioning of persons by
military personnel.3 FM 34-52 also contains a section regarding the applicability of the
1949 Geneva Conventions. According to the manual, these Conventions, including the
1949 Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War, are to be “strictly
observed and enforced by the United States Forces without regard to whether they are
legally binding upon this country and its specific relations with any other specific
country.”4 In applying these standards, the Field Manual requires soldiers to adhere to the
On October 5, 2005, the Senate adopted a floor amendment (S.Amdt. 1977) proposed by
Senator McCain to the House-passed defense appropriations bill, restricting the types of
interrogation techniques employed by U.S. personnel. On November 4, 2005, Senator McCain
proposed an identically worded amendment (S.Amdt. 2425) to S. 1042, the National Defense
Authorization Act for FY2006, which also was adopted by the Senate. The Senate subsequently
substituted the language of S. 1042, as amended, for the House-passed version of H.R. 1815, and
then passed the amended bill by unanimous consent. The conference committees appointed to
resolve differences between the House- and Senate-passed versions of the defense appropriations
and authorization bills retained the McCain amendment in the conference report and added
identical provisions providing certain legal protections and assistance to U.S. personnel subjected
to legal action on account of their involvement in the authorized interrogation of a terrorist
suspect. The Department of Defense, Emergency Supplemental Appropriations to Address
Hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, and Pandemic Influenza Act, 2006 (P.L. 109-148), as amended
and passed by the House and Senate, was signed into law on December 30, 2005. The National
Defense Authorization Act for FY2006 (P.L. 109-163), as amended and passed by the House and
Senate, was signed into law on January 6, 2006.
P.L. 109-148, Title X, § 1002 (2005); P.L. 109-163, Title XIV, § 1402 (2006).
Department of the Army Field Manual 34-52, Intelligence Interrogation (1992), available at
Geneva Convention’s prohibition against “cruel treatment and torture” and “[o]utrages
upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment.”5
The McCain amendment does not prevent DOD from subsequently amending the
Prohibition on Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
The second provision of the McCain amendment prohibits persons in the custody or
control of the U.S. government, regardless of their nationality or physical location, from
being subjected to “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.”6 The
amendment specifies that this restriction is without geographical limitation as to where
and when the government must abide by it. Unlike the first section of the McCain
amendment, this provision covers not only DOD activities, but also intelligence and law
enforcement activities occurring both inside and outside the United States. This provision
does not appear to prohibit U.S. agencies from transferring persons to other countries
where those persons would face “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment,”
so long as such persons were no longer in U.S. custody or control. However, such
transfers might nonetheless be limited by applicable treaties and statutes.7 The McCain
amendment also provides that this provision may “not be superseded, except by a
provision of law enacted after the date of the enactment of this act which specifically
repeals, modifies, or supersedes the provisions of this section.”8
In interpreting whether treatment falls below this standard, the McCain amendment
defines “cruel, unusual, and inhuman treatment or punishment” to cover those acts
prohibited under the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, as
stated in U.S. reservations to the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of
Cruel and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).9 The Constitution
applies to U.S. citizens abroad, thereby protecting them from the extraterritorial infliction
by U.S. state or federal officials of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment
that is prohibited under the Fifth, Eighth, and/or Fourteenth Amendments.10 However,
Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, 6 U.S.T. 3316 , entered into
force Oct. 21, 1950. For additional background, see CRS Report RL32567, Lawfulness of
Interrogation Techniques under the Geneva Conventions, by Jennifer K. Elsea.
P.L. 109-148, Title X, § 1003; P.L. 109-163, Title XIV, § 1402.
See CRS Report RL32890, Renditions: Constraints Imposed by Laws on Torture, by Michael
P.L. 109-148, Title X, § 1003; P.L. 109-163, Title XIV, § 1402.
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,
G.A. Res. 39/46, Annex, 39 U.N. GAOR Supp. No. 51, U.N. Doc. A/39/51 (1984) [hereafter
“CAT”]. Ratified by the U.S. in 1994, CAT prohibits parties from engaging in torture, and also
requires them to take measures to end “cruel, unusual, and inhuman treatment or punishment”
within territories under their respective jurisdiction. Id. at arts. 1-3, 16.
See, e.g., Reid v. Covert, 354 U.S. 1, 6 (1957) (“When the Government reaches out to punish
a citizen who is abroad, the shield which the Bill of Rights and other parts of the Constitution
provide to protect his life and liberty should not be stripped away just because he happens to be
in another land.”).
noncitizens arguably only receive constitutional protections after they have effected entry
into the United States.11
The McCain amendment prohibits persons under U.S. custody or control from being
subjected to “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment” of any kind
prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, regardless of their
geographic location or nationality. Accordingly, it appears that the McCain amendment
is intended to ensure that persons in U.S. custody or control abroad cannot be subjected
to treatment that would be deemed unconstitutional if it occurred in the United States.12
The scope of the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment prohibitions upon harsh
treatment or punishment is subject to evolving case law interpretation and constant legal
and scholarly debate.13 The types of acts that fall within “cruel, inhuman, or degrading
treatment or punishment” contained in the McCain amendment may change over time and
may not always be clear. Heightening this uncertainty is the possible difficulty of
comparing situations that might arise in the context of hostilities and “the war on terror”
with interrogation, detention, and incarceration within the U.S. criminal justice system.
See, e.g., Verdugo-Urquidez v. United States, 494 U.S. 259, 270-71 (1990) (“aliens receive
constitutional protections when they have come within the territory of the United States and
developed substantial connections with the country”). But see Rasul v. Bush, 124 S.Ct. 2686,
n.15 (2004) (noting in dicta that petitioners’ allegations that they had been held in Executive
detention for more than two years “in territory subject to the long-term, exclusive jurisdiction and
control of the United States, without access to counsel and without being charged with any
wrongdoing — unquestionably describe ‘custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or
treaties of the United States’”) (citing federal habeas statute 28 U.S.C. § 2241(c)(3), under which
petitioners challenged their detention). Whether the Rasul ruling meant only that federal habeas
jurisdiction extended to Guantanamo, or more broadly found that non-citizens detained at
Guantanamo possessed constitutional rights, has been subject to conflicting rulings by district
courts. Compare Khalid v. Bush, 355 F. Supp.2d 311 (D.D.C. 2005) (holding that while federal
habeas statute covers Guantanamo detainees, non-citizens detained there do not receive
constitutional protections) with In re Guantanamo Detainees, 355 F. Supp.2d 443 (D.D.C. 2005)
(reading Rasul to mean that persons detained at Guantanamo are owed constitutional protections).
For further information, see CRS Report RS22173, Detainees at Guantánamo Bay, by Jennifer
The McCain amendment also appears aimed at resolving controversy concerning U.S.
implementation of CAT Article 16, which obligates CAT parties to prevent cruel, inhuman, or
degrading treatment or punishment within territories under their jurisdiction. When the U.S.
ratified CAT, it did so with the reservation that the “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or
punishment” prohibited by CAT covered only those types of actions prohibited by the U.S.
Constitution. There is some legal dispute as to whether CAT Article 16, as read in light of U.S.
reservations, applies to non-citizens held outside the United States. For further background, see
CRS Report RL32438, U.N. Convention Against Torture (CAT): Overview and Application to
Interrogation Techniques, by Michael Garcia.
The Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment” concerns the
imposition of a criminal punishment. Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651 (1977). The
constitutional restraint of persons in other areas, such as pre-trial interrogation, is found in the
Due Process Clauses of the Fifth Amendment (concerning obligations owed by the U.S. federal
government) and Fourteenth Amendment (concerning duties owed by U.S. state governments).
These due process rights protect persons from executive abuses which “shock the conscience.”
See, e.g, Rochin v. California, 342 U.S. 165 (1952).
For example, a U.S. court might employ a different standard for determining whether
interrogation techniques employed against a criminal suspect are unconstitutionally harsh
than it would use in assessing whether those same techniques were unconstitutional if
employed against an enemy combatant in a war zone.
Nevertheless, types of treatment in a criminal law context that have been deemed to
be prohibited under the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments may be deemed
instructive by a reviewing court. A sampling might include, inter alia:
handcuffing an individual to a hitching post in a standing position for an
extended period of time that “surpasses the need to quell a threat or
maintaining temperatures and ventilation systems in detention facilities
that fail to meet reasonable levels of comfort;15 and
prolonged interrogation over an unreasonably extended period of time,16
including interrogation of a duration that might not seem unreasonable
in a vacuum, but becomes such when evaluated in the totality of the
Again, whether such conduct would also be considered “cruel, inhuman, or
degrading punishment or treatment prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth
Amendment” when employed in other circumstances (e.g., against terrorist suspects or
enemy combatants abroad), or whether different constitutional standards could govern
such conduct, remains unclear.
Conduct that has not been deemed to violate the Fifth, Eighth, and/or Fourteenth
Amendments includes, inter alia:
The double-celling of those in custody, at least so long as it does not lead
to deprivations of essentials, an unreasonable increase in violence, or
create other conditions intolerable for confinement.18
Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730 (2002).
Chandler v. Crosby, 379 F.3d 1278 (11th Cir. 2004).
Haynes v. Washington, 373 U.S. 503 (1963). See also Greenwald v. Wisconsin, 390 U.S. 519
(1968); Davis v. North Carolina, 384 U.S. 737 (1966) (holding that confession of escaped convict
held incommunicado 16 days was involuntary, even though he was interrogated only an hour each
day he was held).
See Leyra v. Denno, 347 U.S. 556 (1954); Johnson v. New Jersey, 384 U.S. 719 (1966);
Ashdown v. Utah, 357 U.S. 426 (1958).
Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337 (1981). The Court stated that, “General considerations fall
far short in themselves of proving cruel and unusual punishment, for there is no evidence that
double celling under these circumstances either inflicts unnecessary or wanton pain or is grossly
disproportionate to the severity of crimes warranting imprisonment.” Here, the condition of the
cells was modern and well-equipped. This contributed to the Court’s decision for allowing it in
this situation, but also showed that the decision does not preclude all other situations of double
celling from being cruel and unusual.
Solitary or isolated confinement, so long as such confinement is within
a cell in acceptable condition and is not of an unreasonable duration.19
In detention situations, the use of constant lighting in prisoner cells is
allowed as the detainees’ inconvenience and discomfort is outweighed by
the need to protect safety and welfare of the other detainees and staff.20
Again, it might not be clear that these and similar treatments may never be deemed
constitutionally impermissible outside the criminal context, including when such
treatments are used upon enemy combatants or terrorist suspects who have not been
charged with a criminal offense.
Protection of U.S. Personnel Engaged in Authorized Interrogations. The
conference committees established to resolve differences between the House- and Senatepassed versions of the defense appropriations and authorization bills inserted an additional
provision into the McCain amendment, providing certain legal protections and assistance
to U.S. personnel engaged in authorized interrogations.21 As modified, the McCain
amendment provides a legal defense to U.S. personnel in any civil or criminal action
brought against them on account of their participation in the authorized interrogation of
suspected foreign terrorists. The amendment specifies that a legal defense exists to civil
action or criminal prosecution when the U.S. agent “did not know that the [interrogation]
practices were unlawful and a person of ordinary sense and understanding would not
know the practices were unlawful.” A good faith reliance on the advice of counsel is
specified to be “an important factor, among others, to consider in assessing whether a
person of ordinary sense and understanding would have known the practices to be
unlawful.” The McCain amendment further states that the specification of a “good-faith”
defense neither extinguishes any other defenses available to U.S. personnel nor accords
such personnel with immunity from criminal prosecution.
In addition, the McCain amendment permits the U.S. government to employ legal
counsel for and pay the court costs of U.S. personnel in any legal actions brought against
them in foreign judicial tribunals and administrative agencies on account of such persons’
participation in authorized interrogations, to the same extent such services and payments
are authorized under 10 U.S.C. § 1037 (permitting DOD to employ counsel and pay court
costs of armed forces and accompanying persons before foreign judicial tribunals and
Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S. 678 (1978). The Court indicated that factors involved in the
determination of constitutionality under the Eighth Amendment’s “cruel and unusual”prohibition
include the physical conditions of the cell and the length of time of confinement.
Shanks v. Litscher, 02-C-0064-C, 2003 U.S. Dist. Lexis 24590 (W.D. Wis. Jan. 29, 2003).
P.L. 109-148, Title X, § 1004; P.L. 109-163, Title XIV, § 1404.