Bipartisan Senators Move to Establish Human Rights Commission in Honor of John McCain
Check out the We Hold These Truths action campaign below!
by Countable | 9.3.19
As the McCain Institute (MCI) launches its new We Hold These Truths action campaign — an initiative dedicated to the promotion of human rights — a bipartisan group of senators is also taking steps to establish a human rights commission. And just like the McCain Institute’s issue advocacy effort, the commission is intended to honor the late Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and further his legacy of standing up for human rights around the world. Here’s a look at how John McCain became an advocate for human rights, as well as what the aforementioned commission and MCI’s campaign are both intended to accomplish.
A naval aviator during the Vietnam War, McCain was shot down over North Vietnam while on his 23rd combat mission in 1967. He was captured and held as a prisoner of war (POW) for the next five and a half years, a period in which he endured beatings, torture, and protracted solitary confinement.
Less than a year into McCain’s captivity the North Vietnamese realized he was the son of a four-star admiral who, at the time, was the commander of all U.S. forces in Vietnam. His captors offered to release him, but McCain said he would refuse unless all POWs taken before him were released to prevent prisoners from being depicted in propaganda as accepting preferential treatment.
He remained in captivity until the war’s end, but the torture and inadequate care he received left him unable to raise either arm more than 80 degrees for the rest of his life. Upon his release in 1973, McCain was awarded the Silver Star Medal, the Legion of Merit, three Bronze Star Medals, the Purple Heart, and other commendations for his actions as a POW to aid his fellow POWs and organize their resistance to the North Vietnamese.
McCain was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1982 and then ran a successful campaign for the Senate in 1986. As a lawmaker, McCain took an early interest in human rights issues, voting to impose sanctions on the apartheid regime in South Africa and pressing for the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Vietnam (which had since been unified by communist North Vietnam) by introducing a resolution to lift a trade embargo. It’s this longstanding interest in human rights, and proven track record fighting for the issue, that inspired the McCain Institute to pick up this banner and focus a seminal campaign on human rights as well.
In 2005, McCain introduced the McCain Detainee Amendment to the annual defense spending bill to ban the inhumane treatment and torture of prisoners, including those at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The amendment was eventually adopted on an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 90-9 and became law after President George W. Bush relented on a threatened veto.
McCain was also instrumental in the drafting and passage of the Magnitsky Act in 2012, which sanctioned Russian officials involved in the murder of dissident accountant Sergei Magnitsky in prison. And after a report on the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” became public in 2014, McCain said on the Senate floor that “I know the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights.”
One of the final notable votes McCain cast in the Senate was to pass the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which imposed sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and Russia for human rights violations (among other hostile activities). The bills passed Congress with near-unanimous margins in July 2017 and were signed into law shortly thereafter.
Earlier in July, McCain was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a rare and lethal form of brain cancer, and after the Senate adjourned for its Christmas recess that year he remained in Arizona to receive treatment. In the summer of 2018, while the 81-year old senator was recuperating in Arizona, his colleagues in Congress worked on two bipartisan bills named in his honor related to other issues near to his heart ― defense policy and veterans affairs ― that quickly became law. McCain passed away only weeks later on August 25, 2018.
In the current Congress, an effort is underway in the Senate to honor McCain’s legacy on human rights. A group of 17 bipartisan senators introduced a resolution to establish the John S. McCain III Human Rights Commission within the Senate. The commission would serve as a forum for discussion of international human rights issues and the promotion of human rights, raise awareness of human rights violations, and work with the executive branch and non-governmental organizations to promote human rights.
And this — together with the McCain Institute’s We Hold These Truths campaign — goes a long way toward furthering the Senator’s human rights legacy. For more information about the campaign, or to get involved yourself, visit the website at weholdthesethruths.org.
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: levanrami via Flickr / Creative Commons)
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