ACLU Applauds Call to Hold U.S. Accountable for Torture and Abuse

May 19, 2006 12:00 am

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U.N. Committee Against Torture Criticizes U.S. Failure to Comply with Torture Treaty at Home and Abroad

NEW YORK — The American Civil Liberties Union today welcomed the recommendations of the U.N. Committee Against Torture which called for an end to U.S. policies that condone torture and abuse. The recommendations come at the conclusion of a three-week session during which the U.N. body of 10 independent experts on torture scrutinized a periodic report by the U.S. government and found it sorely lacking.

“The message from the torture committee leaves no doubt that the U.S. policies and practices at home and abroad violated bedrock principles against torture and abuse,” said Jamil Dakwar, an attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program who was in Geneva monitoring the session. “”If America is to regain its status as a beacon of freedom around the world, the U.S. government must take immediate steps to end its policies of abuse and to hold officials and perpetrators accountable.”

The committee’s exceptionally long and comprehensive recommendations are not legally binding, but they place an important moral obligation on the U.S. government, which has committed to complying with the treaty before the nations of the world, the ACLU said. The recommendations include the following:

      • Ensure that no one is detained in any secret detention facility;

      • Promptly, thoroughly, and impartially investigate any responsibility of senior military and civilian officials authorizing, acquiescing or consenting, in any way, to acts of torture committed by their subordinates.

      • Cease to detain any person at Guantánamo Bay and close this detention facility, permit access by the detainees to judicial process or release them as soon as possible, ensuring that they are not returned to any State where they could face a real risk of being tortured;

      • Promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigate all allegations of acts of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by law enforcement personnel and bring perpetrators to justice;

      • Carefully review execution methods, in particular lethal injection in order to prevent severe pain and suffering;

      • Design and implement appropriate measures to prevent all sexual violence, in all its detention centers;
      • Not limit the right of victims to bring civil actions and amend the Prison Litigation Reform Act accordingly;
      • Address sentences of life imprisonment of children as these could constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and,
      • Ensure that reports of brutality and ill-treatment of members of vulnerable groups by its law enforcement personnel are independently, promptly and thoroughly investigated and that perpetrators are prosecuted and appropriately punished.

      The committee also asked the U.S. government, within one year, to provide detailed information on specific issues and recommendations both on the domestic and extraterritorial level.

      The ACLU monitored the committee proceedings and provided information about U.S. sponsored policies and practices of torture and abuse at home and abroad. On May 8, the ACLU delivered a petition to John Bellinger, a Department of State legal advisor who headed the U.S. delegation in Geneva, with more than 51,000 signatures calling for the enforcement of the universal prohibition against torture.

      The U.N. Committee Against Torture is the world’s leading human rights body tasked with holding countries accountable for torture and abuse. The committee, which meets twice a year to examine countries’ compliance with the treaty, held a session earlier this month to review U.S. compliance with the torture treaty, ratified by the U.S. in 1994.
      At the beginning of the Geneva session, the ACLU presented the committee with its detailed report, Enduring Abuse: Torture and Cruel Treatment by the United States at Home and Abroad, which documents U.S. failure to comply with the treaty against torture within the U.S. and abroad.

      In a related matter, yesterday a U.S. District Court said that Khaled El-Masri, a victim of the CIA’s policy of kidnapping and rendition, could not pursue his lawsuit against the U.S. government. According to the court, the simple fact of holding proceedings would jeopardize state secrets, a position advanced by the CIA. The ACLU is representing El-Masri.

      The ACLU was founded in 1920 and is now the nation’s largest civil liberties organization with more than 500,000 members. It is one of the few domestic groups involved in a broad expanse of legal cases and advocacy efforts involving both domestic and extra-territorial abuse.

      The ACLU’s report to the Committee Against Torture is available online at:

      The ACLU’s petition is available online at:

      The more than 100,000 government documents turned over to the ACLU as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit are available online in a searchable database at:

      The committee’s recommendation are available online at:

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