FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Mistreatment of Detainees in US Custody

President George W. Bush
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

Nearly a year ago, on June 26, 2003, you reaffirmed the U.S. government’s commitment to respect international prohibitions not only of torture but also of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. In the past several weeks, it has become obvious that this policy statement was not implemented. U.S. forces have systematically mistreated detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo, and elsewhere. These violations of international law governing the treatment of detainees threaten to erode human rights norms that protect everyone taken into custody, including Americans. They have also done enormous damage to America’s reputation, harmed U.S. efforts to build global support for countering terrorism, and been an apparent boon to terrorist recruiters. Your personal intervention is needed to end these illegal practices.

The sexual humiliation and abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison is only one small part of the problem. That abuse is reprehensible, and we welcome efforts to hold the perpetrators at all levels accountable. But what is most disturbing is that the abuse clearly stems from policy decisions that your administration made to approve a range of coercive interrogation techniques that violate international law. It is these policy decisions that you must now reverse.

Your administration has approved a matrix of coercive interrogation techniques that, at a minimum, violate the prohibition of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. These techniques include stripping detainees naked during interrogation, subjecting them to extremes of heat, cold, noise, and light, hooding them, depriving them of sleep, and keeping them in painful positions. In more extreme cases, U.S. personnel have used torture, such as submerging the victim in water until he believes he will drown, or leading a detainee to believe he will be summarily executed.

These interrogation practices cannot plausibly be attributed to a handful of low-level soldiers or intelligence officials. Credible accounts suggest they reflect official policy authorized at the highest levels of the Defense and Justice Departments and the Central Intelligence Agency. These practices violate international law. They flout your June 26 policy statement. And, by legitimizing the use of pain and humiliation to facilitate interrogation, they create an environment in which even more serious abuses appear legitimate.

We welcome Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez’s announcement last week that in Iraq he would no longer authorize certain coercive interrogation techniques, such as sleep and sensory deprivation and stressful body positioning. However, his statement was insufficient.

First, he did not acknowledge that these techniques are illegal, in violation of fundamental human rights. Rather, he claimed that they are unnecessary because no one had sought authorization to use them. That, of course, leaves open the possibility of their being reinstated should they prove “necessary.” It also fails to repair the damage done to the international prohibition of torture and other mistreatment, since it leaves the impression that your administration views these coercive interrogation techniques as legal. Future American detainees, among others, will suffer the consequences of that impression.

Second, Gen. Sanchez’s statement is limited geographically to detainees under his authority in Iraq. However, Human Rights Watch has collected evidence that U.S. forces have employed similar techniques against detainees at military bases at Bagram and Kandahar in Afghanistan and Guantánamo in Cuba. A prohibition of coercive interrogation practices should extend to all U.S. detention facilities, and apply to all U.S. forces, whether military, intelligence, law enforcement, or private contractors in their employ.

Torture and other mistreatment of detainees in time of armed conflict or occupation are prohibited under the Third Geneva Convention with respect to prisoners of war and under the Fourth Geneva Convention with respect to other protected persons. We are aware of the administration’s view that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to terrorist suspects, and that the Taliban detainees are not prisoners of war. Even if those contentions were true, war-time detainees would still be protected from torture and other mistreatment by customary international humanitarian law that the United States has long considered binding. In addition, coercive interrogation is prohibited in all circumstances by the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which the United States has ratified. The U.S. government has acknowledged that these prohibitions are absolute and unconditional. They are so fundamental that their violation has been deemed a crime prosecutable in any competent court worldwide.

There should be no question that the coercive practices authorized to date are illegal under these standards. As the U.S. government stated upon ratification and as your administration reiterated last June 26, the Convention against Torture prohibits at least the same treatment of detainees as the U.S. Constitution. There is no question that the interrogation techniques described above, if used by law enforcement officials in the United States, would be found unconstitutional. By the same token, they are illegal if used abroad. As your administration recognized a year ago, the standard is the same.

We therefore urge you to announce that, from now on, no U.S. government officials or anyone under their direction will employ coercive interrogation techniques ­ without exception. In light of the failure to date to apply your June 26 policy statement, we urge you to provide a detailed itemization of the techniques that are prohibited. You should make clear that your administration unequivocally proscribes the deliberate use of pain, suffering, or humiliation as part of any interrogation process, regardless of the locale, regardless of the legal status of the detainee, regardless of the secrecy or openness of the detention.

This matter is too important to be left to subordinates. Action by you is needed to demonstrate your personal commitment to the prohibition of torture and mistreatment contained in domestic and international law.

Respectfully,

KENNETH ROTH
Executive Director
Human Rights Watch

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 10, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Lynnette Grey Bull
Trump’s Postcard to America From the Shrine of Hypocrisy
Anthony DiMaggio
Free Speech Fantasies: the Harper’s Letter and the Myth of American Liberalism
David Yearsley
Morricone: Maestro of Music and Image
Jeffrey St. Clair
“I Could Live With That”: How the CIA Made Afghanistan Safe for the Opium Trade
Rob Urie
Democracy and the Illusion of Choice
Paul Street
Imperial Blind Spots and a Question for Obama
Vijay Prashad
The U.S. and UK are a Wrecking Ball Crew Against the Pillars of Internationalism
Melvin Goodman
The Washington Post and Its Cold War Drums
Richard C. Gross
Trump: Reopen Schools (or Else)
Chris Krupp
Public Lands Under Widespread Attack During Pandemic 
Alda Facio
What Coronavirus Teaches Us About Inequality, Discrimination and the Importance of Caring
Eve Ottenberg
Bounty Tales
Andrew Levine
Silver Linings Ahead?
John Kendall Hawkins
FrankenBob: The Self-Made Dylan
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Deutsche Bank Fined $150 Million for Enabling Jeffrey Epstein; Where’s the Fine Against JPMorgan Chase?
David Rosen
Inequality and the End of the American Dream
Louis Proyect
Harper’s and the Great Cancel Culture Panic
Thom Hartmann
How Billionaires Get Away With Their Big Con
REZA FIYOUZAT
Your 19th COVID Breakdown
Danny Sjursen
Undercover Patriots: Trump, Tulsa, and the Rise of Military Dissent
Charles McKelvey
The Limitations of the New Antiracist Movement
Binoy Kampmark
Netanyahu’s Annexation Drive
Joseph G. Ramsey
An Empire in Points
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
COVID-19 Denialism is Rooted in the Settler Colonial Mindset
Ramzy Baroud
On Israel’s Bizarre Definitions: The West Bank is Already Annexed
Judith Deutsch
Handling Emergency: A Tale of Two Males
Michael Welton
Getting Back to Socialist Principles: Honneth’s Recipe
Dean Baker
Combating the Political Power of the Rich: Wealth Taxes and Seattle Election Vouchers
Jonah Raskin
Edward Sanders: Poetic Pacifist Up Next
Manuel García, Jr.
Carbon Dioxide Uptake by Vegetation After Emissions Shutoff “Now”
Heidi Peltier
The Camo Economy: How Military Contracting Hides Human Costs and Increases Inequality
Ron Jacobs
Strike!, Fifty Years and Counting
Ellen Taylor
The Dark Side of Science: Shooting Barred Owls as Scapegoats for the Ravages of Big Timber
Sarah Anderson
Shrink Wall Street to Guarantee Good Jobs
Graham Peebles
Prison: Therapeutic Centers Or Academies of Crime?
Zhivko Illeieff
Can We Escape Our Addiction to Social Media?
Clark T. Scott
The Democrat’s Normal Keeps Their (Supposed) Enemies Closer and Closer
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
In 2020 Elections: Will Real-Life “Fighting Dems” Prove Irresistible?
David Swanson
Mommy, Where Do Peace Activists Come From?
Christopher Brauchli
Trump the Orator
Gary Leupp
Columbus and the Beginning of the American Way of Life: A Message to Indoctrinate Our Children
John Stanton
Donald J. Trump, Stone Cold Racist
Nicky Reid
The Stonewall Blues (Still Dreaming of a Queer Nation)
Stephen Cooper
A Kingston Reasoning with Legendary Guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith (The Interview: Part 2)
Hugh Iglarsh
COVID-19’s Coming to Town
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail