Today marks the CAT Day of Action, a day to call for an absolute end to all torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in honor of the 20th Anniversary of the U.S. ratification of the Convention Against Torture (CAT). It comes on the heels of a worrying New York Times report that military and intelligence lawyers are pushing the Obama administration to reaffirm former president George W. Bush’s interpretation of the CAT, which claimed that the treaty binds the United States to prevent and punish torture only within its own borders.
Rather than fabricating loopholes in international treaties, the United States should be a leader in the fight against torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. Obama should close the door that Bush opened and publicly recommit to complying with every part of the CAT, whether at home or abroad, at its upcoming review by the CAT committee in November.
To ensure that the United States never returns to the “dark side” again, Human Rights First urges Congress and the Obama administration to take the following steps:
- Enact legislation that clearly prohibits torture under all contexts, both during war time and peace time, both internationally and domestically, and defines torture in a way that is consistent with the CAT. Existing criminal statutes prohibit torture, but they were all in place on 9/11, and lawyers in the White House, Department of Justice, Department of Defense, and CIA were able to skirt them to advise that so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” were legal. One of the main protections against torture is an executive order, which can be revoked by any future administration. Furthermore, the definition of torture in U.S. laws is not consistent across the board or with the definition in the Convention Against Torture. This could create confusion regarding whether torture is categorically prohibited in all circumstances as required by the Convention. Congress should rectify these problems with legislation that clearly makes all forms of torture illegal in all contexts, and specifically include techniques that U.S. agencies have previously used, such as stress positions, “waterboarding,” and sleep deprivation.
- Strengthen the prohibitions against torture in the CIA and the military, including repealing Appendix M of the Army Field Manuel, which allows the use of “separation,” a technique that may involve sensory deprivation and sleep deprivation. The government should also mandate that the International Committee of the Red Cross have access to all detainees, and that all interrogations are videotaped.
- Work to release the report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) on CIA post-9/11 torture and detention with as few redactions as possible. The committee reportedly concluded that the interrogation methods were more brutal and widespread than Americans were led to believe, that the CIA intentionally misled Congress and the White House about the torture program, and that torture was ineffective as an intelligence-gathering technique. Read more about the SSCI report and call for its release here.
- Sign and ratify the Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the Optional Protocol to CAT.
Support ending torture by using the hashtag #EndTorture on social media today.