U.S. Violates Treaty Against Torture Abroad and at Home

April 27, 2006 12:00 am

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ACLU Submits Report to U.N. Committee Against Torture Detailing Abuses

NEW YORK -The American Civil Liberties Union today released a detailed report on the failure of the U.S. abroad and at home to comply with the treaty against torture. The report was filed with the U. N. Committee Against Torture, which will review U. S. compliance with the Convention Against Torture in early May.

“America’s image was tarnished not just by the Abu Ghraib photographs but by the failure to hold high level officials accountable for the abuse that happened on their watch,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. “It’s been two years — too little and too late when it comes to accountability. When our leaders allow torture and are not held accountable for illegal abuses, all of America suffers.”

The report, Enduring Abuse: Torture and Cruel Treatment by the United States at Home and Abroad, is based on a range of sources, including more than 100,000 government documents turned over to the ACLU as a result of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation. The documents reveal a systemic and pervasive pattern of torture and abuse of detainees in U.S. custody, including evidence that detainees have been beaten; forced into painful stress positions; threatened with death; sexually and religiously humiliated; stripped naked; hooded and blindfolded; exposed to extreme heat and cold; denied food and water; isolated for prolonged periods; subjected to mock drownings; and intimidated by dogs.

The ACLU also today made public a powerful new Web-based search engine that allows users to comb through and analyze the massive number of documents released as a result of the ACLU’s lawsuit. This is the first time this important set of documents has been made easily searchable and available to journalists, scholars and the public.

According to the ACLU report, violations of the torture treaty are not limited to actions by military personnel overseas in the “war on terror,” but in fact are all too common here at home. In a stark example of the horrific conditions of confinement that persist in prisons throughout the country, more than 1,000 prisoners were abandoned and left in their cells for days without food, water or ventilation when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005. Abusive conditions of confinement also persist in so-called Supermax prisons: prison rape and sexual assault are daily occurrences, and the use of Tasers and restraint devices have endangered numerous detainees and prisoners held domestically.

“Too often, the 2.2 million men, women and children in our nation’s prisons and jails are exposed to disgusting living conditions and grossly inadequate medical and mental health care,” said Elizabeth Alexander, Director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “The dangerous use of restraint chairs and electroshock weapons, as well as the failure to protect prisoners from sexual assault, is far too common. It is particularly shocking that federal law makes it difficult to redress many of the human rights violations in the courts.”

The ACLU is the nation’s largest civil liberties organization, and 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 report was submitted to the Committee Against Torture, which is the world’s leading human rights body tasked with holding countries accountable for abuse.

“After the horrors of World War II, our leaders helped to draft universal principles that prohibit torture,” said Ann Beeson, Associate Legal Director of the ACLU. “We must defend this legacy and demand that our government comply with the universal prohibition against torture.”

The ACLU report also makes a number of concrete recommendations designed to bring the U.S. into compliance with the treaty. Included are:

  • Amending and passing laws to criminalize torture;
  • Ensuring that international monitoring bodies have access to all prisoners and detainees in U.S. custody;
  • Ending secret detentions and the policy of extraordinary rendition;
  • Bringing the conditions under which prisoners and detainees are held into conformity with the treaty;
  • Investigating and ending the use of dangerous and cruel restraint methods;
  • Investigating prison rape and sexual assault;
  • Conducting timely and independent investigations of all allegations of torture and abuse of persons in U.S. custody; and,
  • Holding accountable all perpetrators of torture and abuse.

The U. S. ratified the Convention Against Torture in 1994. The U.N. Committee Against Torture meets twice a year to examine individual nations’ compliance with the treaty; at the Geneva session starting May 1, it will review the U.S. report, which was submitted 19 months after it was due. The ACLU will send a delegation to the meeting to observe and participate in the session.

In 2004, the ACLU created a Human Rights Working Group specifically dedicated to holding the U.S. government accountable to universal human rights principles in addition to rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The ACLU Human Rights Working Group incorporates international human rights strategies into ACLU advocacy on issues relating to national security, immigrants’ rights, women’s rights and racial justice.

The ACLU’s new powerful search engine for documents that detail torture and abuse of detainees is available online at: www.aclu.org/torturefoiasearch

Background about the FOIA lawsuit is online at: www.aclu.org/torture

The ACLU’s report to the Committee Against Torture is available online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/torture/25354pub20060427.html

ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero’s statement on the second anniversary of the release of the Abu Ghraib photos is available at: www.aclu.org/safefree/torture/25365prs20060427.html

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