Letter from Human Rights Organizations Regarding House Resolution 593
House International Relations Committee
United States House of Representatives
2170 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
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We write to urge you to support three resolutions of inquiry (H.Res. 593, 642, and 624) that are currently before the House International Relations Committee. Collectively, these resolutions seek information regarding the practices and policies of the executive branch regarding the use of torture, extraordinary rendition, and compliance with the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (CAT).
The issues of extraordinary rendition, torture and the compliance by the United States with its international treaty obligations should be of high importance for the International Relations Committee. Last year, the Congress adopted the McCain Amendment, in an overwhelming bipartisan vote, making clear that the United States must abide by its international obligations not to engage in torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment anywhere in the world.
Yet there remain significant questions about how the executive branch plans to interpret the McCain Amendment. And there is still a strong perception in many parts of the world that the United States continues to facilitate or willfully ignore torture by rendering individuals to countries where they are likely to be tortured, and by holding detainees in secret locations closed to the International Committee on the Red Cross. This perception harms America’s reputation and its ability to advance its interests abroad. The issues of rendition and secret prisons, for example, dominated Secretary of State Rice’s last trip to Europe, and were an important factor in the Dutch Parliament’s recent hesitation to approve the deployment of troops to Afghanistan. Decisions concerning rendition and the location of detention facilities have significant impact on those American allies who are asked to cooperate, as well as on American efforts to promote human rights around the world. Oversight from the International Relations Committee is thus vital.
One issue that should be of particular interest to the Committee is the State Department’s reliance on “diplomatic assurances” even from repressive regimes like Syria and Saudi Arabia -- to protect rendered individuals from torture. These assurances are formal promises, either written or verbal, from the receiving government that it will not subject the detainee to torture or ill-treatment. Yet, these assurances have not been accompanied by oversight or monitoring, and as a result, there is no mechanism for enforcement. A key example is the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen of Syrian origin. In 2002, he was seized by U.S. authorities while transiting New York and sent to Syria, where he endured nearly a year of brutal treatment, including beatings with electrical cords, despite assurances from Syria that Arar would not be mistreated.
This committee has a strong interest in ensuring that what happened to Arar is not repeated in the future. Yet, it cannot – and should not – craft legislation in the dark. This Committee needs the most up-to-date, and accurate, information about what is actually occurring in order to ensure that its response to such practices is measured and reasoned. H. Res. 593 would ensure that this committee is provided that necessary information. Specifically, it would require the executive branch to provide the House of Representatives all documents and records regarding the rendition, transfer, or return to a foreign country any foreign person in the custody of the United States. Such information will help to ensure that this committee, and Congress as a whole, address and exercise oversight over the United States rendition policy in a meaningful and constructive fashion.
The companion resolutions, H. Res. 642 and 624 would do the same, ensuring that this committee is provided relevant and necessary information regarding the Secretary of State’s most recent trip to Europe and regarding United States’ compliance with CAT and the Geneva Conventions.
President Bush has made the promotion of liberty, democracy, and the rule of law in the Middle East and around the world a central priority of his administration. Yet, these commendable efforts are undermined by the continuing perception that the United States engages in, facilitates, and at times willfully ignores practices that amount to torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. These resolutions represent a reasonable, moderate way forward that will enable Congress to exercise steady and constructive oversight over the United States practices in these areas.
We strongly urge you to support House Resolutions 593, 642, and 624.
Advocacy Director, U.S. Program
Human Rights Watch
Deputy Executive Director of Advocacy
Amnesty International USA
Human Rights First
Senior Legislative Counsel
American Civil Liberties Union
Executive Director, Washington Legislative Office
American Civil Liberties Union