As a civilised country, the US is a party to the Convention Against Torture. In addition to not torturing people or subjecting them to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, one of the obligations on parties is to make regular reports to the UN Committee Against Torture. This year, for the first time since the beginning of the "war on terror", the US will face the Committee. And they have some questions to ask. Quite a lot of them, in fact [PDF]. Starting with
Please explain how [the US definition of torture as only including "extreme acts"] is compatible with article 1 of the Convention
And it just goes on - for eleven pages or so. They ask about Guantanamo and the "black sites", they ask about extraordinary rendition and disappearances, they ask about Abu Ghraib and Bagram and the "Salt Pit", and they ask about prosecutions and whether there has been
an independent investigation regarding the possible responsibility of high-ranking officials of the Administration, including the CIA, the Department of Defence, the Department of Justice and the Armed Forces, for authorizing or consenting in any way, including through the issuance of orders or guidelines, to acts committed by their subordinates, especially during the interrogation of detainees, which could be considered as acts of torture?
Or, in English, "why isn't Donald Rumsfeld in jail?"
One UN staffer is quoted as saying that it is the longest list of issues they have ever seen. The US policy of torture and disappearance is being put under the microscope, and it is being asked to justify every statement or report which suggests it is derogating from the absolute prohibition on torture it agreed to when it ratified. In other words, the US is being put on trial - and given its policies, it is highly likely that it will be found wanting. All the Committee can do is issue an adverse report finding that the US has failed to abide by its obligations under the Convention and listing the practices it considers demonstrate noncompliance - but that in itself sends a powerful message, and one the US does not want sent. Even the Bush Administration has a sense of shame, it seems.