Blueprint Outlines Recommendations to Prohibit Use of Torture

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today released a set of recommendations for Congress and the Obama Administration to codify the U.S. government’s opposition to torture. The recommendations, part of a blueprint called, “How to Rebuild a Durable Consensus against Torture in the United States,” come off the heels of public release of a Senate report that analyzed millions of CIA documents from its post-9/11 torture program.

“Despite shocking revelations about the depravity and ineffectiveness of the program, there is a high risk that a future administration could authorize a new abusive and unlawful interrogation program if there is not concrete action from the administration and Congress,” noted Human Rights First in its blueprint. “If the United States is to live up to its image as a nation that values human rights while continuing to protect itself from terrorist threats, the government must clarify, strengthen, and expand measures to prohibit  torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under U.S. law.”

The public release of the CIA report last week included details about the agency’s detention and interrogation program, including that it was more cruel and widespread than originally thought, and that CIA leaders systematically lied to the administration and Congress about the efficacy of the program. The report is the result of an investigation launched with bipartisan support, and the report itself was both adopted and declassified in separate bipartisan votes in the committee.

The report’s findings enjoy widespread support from political, national security, and intelligence leaders, including among Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. The report was also initiated, adopted, and submitted for declassification on three independent, bipartisan votes. A nonpartisan group of retired generals and admirals who stood with President Obama in the Oval Office as he signed an executive order banning torture have tirelessly advocated for the report’s release.

Today’s blueprint recommends a number of actions that Congress and the Obama Administration should take to ensure that torture never again becomes official policy of the United States, including the steps:


  • Pass legislation that affirms, clarifies, and reinforces the prohibition against torture, and that strengthens efforts to prevent it.
    • Clarify the definition of what constitutes torture and ensure that it is in line with the definition in the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT).
    • Clarify that the prohibition against torture applies in all circumstances.
  • Declassify the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s full study on the post-9/11 CIA detention and interrogation program.
  • Mandate more thorough judicial review of state secrets claims.
  • Mandate that all U.S. government agencies and the military abide by a single standard of interrogation that prevents the use of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment during an armed conflict.
  • Prohibit the CIA from operating detention facilities or detaining individuals, and limit its function with respect to those activities to analysis and intelligence-gathering.
  • Mandate that the government must notify the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) of any individual in the custody of the U.S. government and allow the ICRC to access detainees within 14 days.
  • Pass legislation to require video recording of all interrogations.


  • Support clarifying and reinforcing existing anti-torture legislation.
  • Mandate that all interrogations of detainees held by any department or agency of the U.S. government be video recorded, and modify current DOJ polices that allow interrogators to avoid recording requirements if the interrogation relates to national security.
  • Clarify the extraterritorial scope of the CAT.
  • Investigate and appropriately sanction CIA employees who used techniques during interrogations that were not authorized by administrative regulations and guidelines.
  • Repeal Appendix M of the Army Field Manual.
  • Direct the Attorney General to explain why the Justice Department has not pursued cases of criminal conduct related to detainee abuse.
  • Declare a moratorium on rendition to countries where torture is systematic, and publicize reviews of rendition practices and diplomatic assurances.
  • Sign, and seek advice and consent of the Senate to ratify, the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances and the CAT Optional Protocol.

“As the administration launches its new strategy against brutal extremist groups such as Islamic State in Iraq and Al Shâm, the use of torture to elicit intelligence is once again under discussion in some quarters,” wrote Human Rights First. “In the next two years, Congress and the administration have an opportunity to commit the United States to its highest standards and set a course for the most effective way to protect against terrorist threats.”


Published on December 18, 2014


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