On Anniversary Of Treaty Ratification, U.S. Should Ensure Prohibition Of Torture Meets International Standards

October 21, 2009 12:00 am

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NEW YORK – Today marks the fifteenth anniversary of the U.S. ratification of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, but U.S. policy continues to fall short of ensuring full compliance with the treaty. For example, an appendix to the Army Field Manual (AFM) can still facilitate cruel treatment of prisoners and detainees at home and abroad, says the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (CAT) is the most comprehensive international human rights treaty dealing exclusively with the issues of torture and abuse. It came into effect in 1987, and has been ratified by 146 countries. The treaty was initially signed by the Reagan administration in 1988 and was ratified by the Senate on October 21, 1994, but with reservations, understandings and declarations (RUDs) that failed to make the treaty fully applicable. The Bush administration exploited these RUDs to justify abusive interrogation policies including the use of waterboarding, stress positions, extreme isolation and sleep deprivation. In 2006, the Committee Against Torture, which reviews country compliance with CAT, criticized the U.S. for failure to uphold the treaty and called for full compliance.

After taking office, President Obama admirably issued an executive order prohibiting torture. But under an appendix to the 2006 revised U.S. Army Field Manual – the most recent edition – practices considered incompatible with CAT and international law are still allowed, including force-feeding, psychological torture, sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation. Under Appendix M to the AFM, detainees can be ‘separated’ or held in isolation from other detainees for 30 days, or longer with authorization, and allowed only four hours of continuous sleep per night over 30 days, which can be prolonged upon approval.

The following can be attributed to Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program:

“In recent years, the United States has shamefully evaded international human rights commitments and exempted itself from universally recognized standards of humane treatment. Fifteen years after ratifying CAT, the Obama administration has an opportunity to change course and ensure that the U.S. does not interpret any of the CAT’s provisions in a way that fails to uphold human rights obligations. To fulfill its human rights requirements, the administration must also fully investigate crimes of torture committed in violation of U.S. and international law and withdraw the Army Field Manual’s Appendix M.”

For more on the Committee Against Torture’s recommendations and follow-up letters to the U.S. government, please see: www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cat/cats36.htm

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