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Is Torture Illegal? Let Us Count the Ways.

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November 8, 2007

Today ACLU staff attorney Amrit Singh testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on torture and interrogation practices. Amrit knows a thing or two about torture: she just co-authored a book about it, with National Security Program Director Jameel Jaffer, called Administration of Torture.

As we’ve pointed out before, torture is illegal many times over. Congress has enacted four statutes and ratified two treaties that prohibit torture of all kinds. For those of you keeping count, torture is illegal under:

  1. The federal Anti-Torture Act
  2. The federal War Crimes Act which, even as amended by the Military Commissions Act, bans acts such as waterboarding
  3. Federal criminal assault laws
  4. The McCain Amendment in the Detainee Treatment Act
  5. The Senate-ratified Convention Against Torture
  6. The Senate-ratified Geneva Conventions (particularly Common Article 3, which prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees)

Aside from the fact that it’s illegal, it’s always worth repeating that torture doesn’t work. Numerous people, most notably former CIA interrogators, have said as much. Victims of torture have invented stories and given false confessions just to make the torture stop. So it’s all the more shocking that the efficacy and legality of torture is even an issue.

But it is. Today in Guantanamo Bay is the military commission hearing of Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was arrested in 2002, when he was 15 years old. Khadr’s been in U.S. custody for five years, and during that time he was tortured, but never charged with a crime. The last time Khadr had a hearing in Guantanamo, the charges were dismissed. Today’s hearing will determine whether Kahdr can be tried as an “unlawful enemy combatant.”

Jamil Dakwar, Advocacy Director for the ACLU’s Human Rights Program, is in Guantanamo now monitoring Khadr’s hearing. He’ll blog about it here tomorrow.

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