ACLU Renews Call on Congress to Investigate U.S. Detainee Torture and Abuse on Eve of International Day Against Torture
WASHINGTON - JUNE 25 - In anticipation of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture and on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention Against Torture, the American Civil Liberties Union reiterated its call on Congress today to create an independent and bi-partisan commission to thoroughly investigate policies and practices of torture and abuse against detainees held in U.S. custody.
"It is a sad commentary that on a day that used to be about calling on rogue countries to stop the practice of torture and abuse, Americans cannot at least hold their heads up high in the knowledge that their own government has behaved according to international legal and moral standards," said Jamil Dakwar, Advocacy Director of the ACLU's Human Rights Program. "It is time for Congress to finally thoroughly investigate the chain of command that allowed this to happen, and to also make sure that the victims of these disgraceful actions have a proper avenue for redress."
The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment went into effect in 1987 and was ratified by the U.S. in 1994. It forbids governments from deliberately inflicting severe physical or mental pain or suffering upon those under their control and prohibits the use of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The Convention also prohibits the transfer or the rendition of persons to countries where they could be at risk of being tortured. Over recent years, it has become clear that the U.S., as part of the so-called "war on terror," has repeatedly violated the Convention. Last year, the U.N. Committee Against Torture condemned the U.S. for its policies that had led to the widespread abuse against detainees, including the use of torture.
To date, no high-ranking senior officials in the government or military have been held accountable for U.S. detainee abuse, including that at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. According to a June 25 published report, the Pentagon and senior military officials were told about the now infamous Abu Ghraib abuses significantly earlier than they professed to have knowledge about them. Army Major General Antonio M. Taguba, in charge of investigating Abu Ghraib, informed Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker magazine that he had submitted more than a dozen copies of his report on the abuse through several channels at the Pentagon and to Central Command headquarters, and that he was given orders to investigate only military police at the prison, not those above them in the chain of command.
Moreover, more than 100,000 pages of government documents released in response to ACLU Freedom of Information Act requests reveal that a pervasive and systemic pattern of harsh interrogation techniques have been used by military personnel indiscriminately in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guántanamo Bay. The documents include 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 intimated by dogs.
It is estimated that there are currently about 18,000 detainees held in Iraq, over 660 in Afghanistan, and about 375 at the U.S. prison in Guantánamo Bay. Most do not have access to attorneys or family members, and, under terms of the Military Commissions Act eliminating habeas corpus protections, have been denied the right to challenge their detention in civilian courts. In addition, it has come to be known that the CIA is engaging in the unlawful practice of "extraordinary rendition" – the kidnapping of foreign nationals for detention and interrogation in secret overseas prisons in countries where it is known detainees are routinely tortured or abused.
According to the ACLU, violations of the Convention Against Torture are not limited to incidents abroad. Abusive conditions of confinement also persist in so-called Supermax prisons in the U.S.: prison rape and sexual assault are daily occurrences, and the use of Tasers and restraint devices have endangered prisoners.
"Too often, the women, men, and children in our nation's prisons are exposed to appalling living conditions and grossly inadequate medical care and are not protected from sexual abuse and the dangerous use of electroshock and other weapons," said Elizabeth Alexander, Director of the ACLU National Prison Project. "Moreover, federal law often makes it difficult to redress many of these human rights violations."