Torture and Cruel Treatment: Prohibitions Under Domestic and International Law

The so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” used in the CIA’s rendition, detention, and interrogation program constitute torture or other cruel treatment, and are illegal under both U.S. and international law. Throughout the election campaign, President Trump repeatedly expressed his support for using these unlawful means to interrogate terrorism suspects, saying he would bring back waterboarding and “much worse.”

Recently President Trump has appeared to be reconsidering his position. After meeting with his choice for Secretary of Defense, retired Marine General James Mattis, Trump said he was “very impressed” with General Mattis’ view on waterboarding. According to Trump, General Mattis opposed the practice, saying, “I’ve never found it to be useful … I’ve always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than I do with torture.”

Professional interrogators agree with General Mattis that torture is ineffective as an interrogation technique.

Lawyers in the Bush Administration sought to evade the prohibition on torture and other cruel treatment by using loophole lawyering to authorize treatment that is categorically prohibited under U.S. criminal law, the law of armed conflict, and human rights law.

This document sets out the prohibitions on torture and other cruel treatment under U.S. domestic law and the United States’ international legal obligations.


Issue Brief

Published on January 9, 2017


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