UN Committee Considers the US Record on Torture During the “War on Terror”

Gabor Rona, International Legal Director for Human Rights First, is in Geneva observing the United States’ presentations to the Committee and will also brief the Committee on several issues of concern.

His daily bog on the proceedings can be read here

From the Financial Times

Washington to defend record on torture before UN

Washington will on Friday be called upon to defend its record on torture before an international forum for the first time since the September 11 attacks on the US sparked the ‘war on terror’.

The US has sent a 30-strong delegation to Geneva to answer questions from the United Nations committee against torture concerning abusive treatment of detainees in Guant’namo Bay, Iraq and Afghanistan.

In what one UN human rights official said was ‘the longest list of issues I have ever seen’, the committee has also asked the US to supply detailed information about secret detention centres, ‘extraordinary renditions’ and other apparent violations of the UN convention on torture it ratified in 1994.

Other questions posed by the committee concern suggestions that the US president can authorise, or waive punishment for, torture in the interests of national security.

The US has consistently denied permitting torture to extract information from terrorism suspects and has blamed most abuses on low-ranking army personnel.

“The US government does not permit, tolerate, or condone torture, or other unlawful practices, by its personnel or employees under any circumstances,” it said in its report to the committee last year in preparation for the hearing today and Monday.

But human rights groups, which have also submitted evidence to the committee, argue that US policies and practices are in breach of international law.

The torture convention outlaws all forms of torture and inhumane treatment whatever the circumstances, forbids sending people to countries where they risk torture, and requires prosecution and punishment of all those responsible for torture up the chain of command.

In a report to the committee this week, UK-based Amnesty International said there was evidence of “widespread torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees”.

It accused Washington of creating a climate in which torture and ill-treatment could flourish, by trying to narrow the definition of torture and failing to hold senior officials responsible.

Jennifer Daskal, US advocacy director of Human Rights Watch in New York, said yesterday that senior US officials were still refusing to classify “water-boarding” – a near-drowning technique used in the Spanish Inquisition – as torture.

Ms Daskal noted that the US delegation, headed by John Bellinger, legal adviser at the State Department, included officials from the defence, justice and homeland security departments, but had no representative from the Central Intelligence Agency, which had been involved in “clearly abusive” interrogations.

The 10 expert members of the UN committee against torture meet twice yearly to review periodic reports on compliance by the 141 states that are parties to the 1987 convention. Though the committee has no powers of sanction, its conclusions – due for publication on May 19 – are widely regarded as authoritative.