What the McCain Amendment Bans
The Open Society Policy Center has authored a brief on what is banned and illegal behavior under the McCain Anti-Torture Amendment. The McCain Amendment, which has been endorsed by The White House, makes the U.S. Army Field Manual binding authority for all DOD interrogations and bans "cruel and unusual" conduct under the 5th, 8th and 14th Amendment in all interrogations conducted by the US anywhere in the world.

December 16, 2005

McCain Amendment Standards

  • Makes US Army Field Manual binding authority for all DOD interrogations
  • Bans “cruel and unusual” conduct under the 5th, 8th and 14th Amendment in all interrogations conducted by the US anywhere in the world

Seven Techniques Reportedly in Use Clearly Banned by McCain Amendment

This list is not exhaustive. Many techniques are banned by the McCain Amendment (e.g., any form of mock execution). But there are seven techniques that have been widely reported to have been used by U.S. officials that are now clearly banned because they violate both the U.S. Army Field Manual and constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Constitution


  • Water, suffocation used on bound prisoner creating overwhelming fear of death
  • Used by the Spanish Inquisition, the Argentine junta and other despots
  • “Mental torture” under Army Manual because it is a form of mock execution
  • “Torture” under federal torture law because it creates “threat of imminent death”
  • Meets Justice Dept. standard of “barbaric” act of “torture” through threat of death

Sleep Deprivation

  • Classic form of torture used by Stalin and other brutal regimes
  • Explicitly a form of “Mental Torture” under the U.S. Army Field Manual
  • Banned by the UK and by a unanimous Israeli Supreme Court
  • Expressly prohibited by the US Supreme Court

Prolonged, Painful Stress Positions

  • Can involve forced standing or kneeling for 40 or more hours
  • Banned in UK and by unanimous Israeli Supreme Court
  • Explicitly called “Physical Torture” by the Army Field Manual
  • Bush Justice Dept. said it violated 8th Amend. in its Hope v. Pelzer brief
  • Supreme Ct. denounced it as “obvious cruelty” antithetical to human dignity

Temperature Manipulation, Hypothermia

  • US used ice water and freezing conditions, rectal thermometers to avoid death; CIA reportedly killed a prisoner using this technique
  • Used by Stalin, Syria and North Korea among others
  • Clearly capable of causing severe damage and death
  • Deliberate and dangerous exposure to heat criticized by Supreme Court

Punching, Striking, Violent Shaking and Beatings

  • CIA reportedly using “shaking” technique with blows to face and stomach
  • Israeli shaking technique killed prisoner; banned by unanimous Supreme Court
  • Constitutes assault and is a criminal offense
  • Plainly illegal under the Constitution to beat, strike, shake prisoners

Using Dogs to Terrorize

  • Terrorized blindfolded prisoners in Iraq to extent that many urinated on selves
  • Banned in directive issued by Pentagon, but that order can be waived by SecDef
  • Clearly degrading and traumatizing

Nakedness and Sexual Humiliation

  • Used in dictatorships like Syria, Uzbekistan and North Korea
  • Clearly intended to degrade and humiliate
  • Would never be accepted as legitimate if used on US soldier
  • Clearly illegal under the US Constitution

Related Posts: U.S. National Security & Human Rights