ACLU Calls for U.S. Accountability Before the U.N. Committee Against Torture

May 8, 2006 12:00 am

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Delivers Petition to U.S. Delegation with More Than 51,000 Signatures

Jamil Dakwar delivering more than 51,000 signatures on a “Stop the Torture” petition to the head of the U.S. delegation to the U.N. Committee against Torture in Geneva.

GENEVA — Today the American Civil Liberties Union delivered a petition with more than 51,000 signatures calling for the enforcement of the universal prohibition against torture to the U.S. State Department delegation at the meeting of the U.N. Committee Against Torture in Geneva. The ACLU has been monitoring the committee proceedings and providing information about U.S. sponsored policies and practices of torture and abuse at home and abroad. The U.S. delegation denied on Friday that incidents of detainee abuse are systemic.

“Instead of denying the systemic abuse of detainees confirmed by its own documents, the U.S. government must own up to the truth and take full responsibility,” said Amrit Singh, an attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project who is currently observing the committee’s examination of the U.S. report in Geneva. “We hope that the Committee Against Torture will hold the government accountable for the torture and abuse of detainees both within the United States and abroad.”

Addressed to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and delivered to John Bellinger, a Department of State legal advisor who is heading the U.S. delegation, the petition states: “Torture. Government kidnapping. Indefinite detention. These are not ideas we associate with the United States of America. They do not represent who we are as Americans. By promoting and condoning these practices in our military and intelligence forces, your administration has broken faith with the American values of freedom and fairness.”

The ACLU also expressed deep concern with many of the responses of the U.S. delegation to questions posed by committee members. In particular, the ACLU is concerned about the inadequacy of the measures taken to prevent torture and abuse, and the failure to hold military and civilian leaders accountable for the torture and inhuman treatment of persons in U.S. custody. In addition, the U.S. said that it can kidnap persons from outside the U.S. and transport them to third countries without violating the Convention. The ACLU charges that the U.S. has illegally rendered detainees to countries and places where torture and abuse are common, and that diplomatic assurances have failed to prevent their torture.

In relation to domestic compliance with the Convention, the U.S. delegation falsely denied the existence of solitary confinement of prisoners in the federal Bureau of Prisons. It presented misleading statistics regarding federal enforcement of civil rights in prison and jails. The delegation also defended a U.S. law that prevents prisoners held in U.S. prisons from seeking damages for abuses similar to those shown in the infamous Abu Ghraib photographs. Finally, it defended the use of electro-shock devices such as Tasers, arguing they are life saving methods despite the fact that more than 150 persons have died between 1999 and 2004 in the U.S. from their use.

Ignoring the committee chairperson’s request to fully engage with NGOs, the U.S. delegation has refused to provide the ACLU and other participating NGOs with its written submission to the committee’s questions. The responses were provided to the committee a day before the opening session.

“Although we are pleased to hear the U.S government say that it is taking this process seriously, lip-service is no substitute for vigorous and sincere measures to end secret imprisonment and detainee abuse and hold officials accountable,” said Jamil Dakwar, an attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program, who is monitoring the proceedings in Geneva.

In a related legal development, the ACLU will argue the case of Khalid El-Masri, an innocent German citizen who was victimized by the CIA’s policy of “extraordinary rendition,” before a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, on Friday, May 12, 2006. The hearing comes in a landmark lawsuit charging former CIA director George Tenet, other CIA officials and U.S.-based aviation corporations with violations of U.S. and universal human rights laws. El-Masri was on vacation in Macedonia when he was kidnapped and transported to a CIA-run “black site” in Afghanistan. After several months of confinement in squalid conditions, he was abandoned on a hill in Albania with no explanation, never having been charged with a crime.

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, is currently reviewing U.S. compliance.

Last week, 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.

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 delegation to Geneva is comprised of Dakwar, Singh and Elizabeth Alexander, the Director of the ACLU National Prison Project.

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:

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