Global Lens Focused on U.S. Torture and Detention Policies

April 4, 2005 12:00 am

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ACLU Seeks to Hold U.S. Government to Universal Standards of Human Rights

GENEVA – The American Civil Liberties Union today called for immediate action by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights to address the abuse and torture of prisoners by the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq, and at detention centers around the world.

A delegation of attorneys from the ACLU arrived in Geneva this week to attend the 61st meeting of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. The ACLU delegation seeks to bring issues of torture and detention, racial profiling, and the exploitation of migrant domestic workers to the Commission’s attention.

“Senior officials in the Bush administration adopted policies that were entirely inconsistent with the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against Torture, and customary international law,” said Jameel Jaffer, a staff attorney with the ACLU. “Those unlawful policies, some of which are still in place, led directly to the maltreatment of hundreds of prisoners.”

Through litigation under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, the ACLU has obtained more than 30,000 documents concerning the detention, mistreatment and confinement of prisoners apprehended by the U.S. after September 11, 2001. The documents, which reinforce previous reports and testimonies, establish beyond any doubt that prisoners under U.S. control are being abused and even tortured. The documents also show that the abuse and torture of prisoners is not irregular or isolated but rather widespread and systemic.

The documents are online at

“Nearly a year after the Abu Ghraib torture and abuses came to public light, serious violations of human rights continue to be committed in U.S. controlled detention centers around the globe,” said Jamil Dakwar, a senior human rights attorney with the ACLU. “No country is above the law, and the United States should not be permitted to violate fundamental human rights in the name of national security.”

Citing serious violations of fundamental human rights, the ACLU makes several urgent recommendations to the Commission on Human Rights, including:

  • A reaffirmation of the absolute prohibition of all forms of torture and a reaffirmation that no circumstance whatsoever may justify the violation of this principle;
  • A global call upon the United States to take effective measures to prevent acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment in all places under its jurisdiction and control, to ensure that all acts are thoroughly and impartially investigated, and to hold accountable those officials who encouraged or sanctioned such acts;
  • Support for the request that the United States permit U.N. human rights experts and monitors to “visit, together and at the earliest possible date, those persons arrested, detained or tried on grounds of alleged terrorism or other violation in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Guantanamo Bay military base and elsewhere.

The full list of recommendations as part of the ACLU’s written statement on torture and detention is available on line at: /node/35122.

On March 1, 2005 the ACLU and Human Rights First filed a lawsuit charging Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with direct responsibility for the abuse and torture of detainees in U.S. military custody. The action was the first federal court lawsuit to name a top U.S. official in the ongoing torture scandal in Iraq and Afghanistan; many of the charges are based on documents obtained through the FOIA lawsuit. The ACLU has also filed separate lawsuits naming Brig. Gen. Karpinski, Col. Thomas Pappas and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez. Details about the Rumsfeld lawsuit are online at

The ACLU recently created a new Human Rights Working Group specifically dedicated to holding the U.S. government accountable to universally recognized human rights principles. The Human Rights Working Group is charged with incorporating international human rights strategies into ACLU advocacy on issues relating to national security, immigrants’ rights, women’s rights, and racial justice.

The ACLU is a national, non-partisan, non-governmental organization with more than 400,000 members dedicated to protecting the individual liberties, rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution, laws, and treaties of the United States. The ACLU was founded in 1920 and is now the largest U.S.-based civil liberties organization. It has offices in all 50 states and employs over 150 permanent staff attorneys and 2,000 cooperating attorneys, litigating over 6,000 cases annually.

Mr. Dakwar is available in Geneva at (0) 79 470 16 83.

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