Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A "please explain" on torture

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.


So how many other countries have ever been found to have breached the convention against torture?

Was the old Iraq ever found in breach? North Korea?

Posted by David Farrar : 4/19/2006 05:39:00 PM

DPF: you know as well as I do that the CAT only binds its parties. Sadly, Iraq and North Korea are not parties, and so there's SFA the Committee can do about them.

China, however, is a party, and had some nasty things said about it when it appeared back in 2000. As did Uzbekistan in 1999 and again in 2002, and Turkey in 2003. The US is not being "singled out"; rather, the Committee is applying the same standards to all parties.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 4/19/2006 06:03:00 PM

Yeah, blame the messenger, David.

Even if NK or Iraq had been cited - how would that make it any better? "USA - we're only doing what those other countries did!" is not an inspiring defence. The fact that other countries have done even worse in no way lets the US off the hook.

Bluntly DPF, which of the complained-of actions would you be willing to stick up for?

Posted by stephen : 4/20/2006 01:54:00 PM