U.S. Fails to Uphold Torture Treaty Abroad and at Home

May 4, 2006 12:00 am

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ACLU Presses for U.S. Accountability Before the U.N. Committee Against Torture

GENEVA — The U.S. government is in clear and unequivocal violation of its obligations under the Convention Against Torture, the American Civil Liberties Union charged today at the opening session of the U.N. Committee Against Torture in Geneva. According to the ACLU, these violations were widespread and occurred both within the U.S. and abroad. The U.N. Committee Against Torture will review U.S. compliance with the treaty which it ratified in 1994.

“There is overwhelming evidence of torture and abuse of detainees held in U.S. custody abroad. Prisoners held within the United States have been similarly abused,” said Jamil Dakwar, an attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program. “Perpetrators and senior officials who sanctioned the abuse have escaped accountability. The Committee Against Torture has to send the message loud and clear that no state is above the law prohibiting torture.”

The U.N. Committee Against Torture is the world’s leading human rights body tasked with holding countries accountable for torture and abuse. It meets twice a year to examine countries’ compliance with the treaty and at the Geneva session that started this week, it will review the U.S. report. John B. Bellinger, the legal advisor to the Department of State, will lead the U.S. delegation made up of 26 representatives from the Department of State, Department of Defense, Department of Justice and from the Department of Homeland Security.

The ACLU presented the Committee with its detailed report, Enduring Abuse: Torture and Cruel Treatment by the United States at Home and Abroad, which documents U.S. failure to comply with the treaty against torture. The report 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 litigation.

The documents reveal a systemic and pervasive pattern of torture and abuse of detainees and prisoners in U.S. custody abroad and at home, 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. Abusive conditions of confinement also endanger numerous detainees and prisoners held within the U.S., where prison rape and sexual assault are daily occurrences, and the use of Tasers and restraint devices are pervasive.

The ACLU also presented a series of recommendations and urged the Committee to implement them immediately in order to bring the U.S. into compliance with the treaty. These include:

  • 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 ACLU was founded in 1920 and is now the nation’s largest civil liberties organization with more than 500,000 members. It 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. In 2004, the ACLU created a Human Rights Program 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 Program 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 delegation to Geneva is comprised of Dakwar, Elizabeth Alexander, the Director of the ACLU National Prison Project, and Amrit Singh, an attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.
The ACLU’s report to the Committee Against Torture is available online at:

The ACLU’s official statement to the Committee Against Torture is available online at: www.aclu.org/intlhumanrights/gen/25445lgl20060504.html

The more than 100,000 government documents turned over to the ACLU as a result of Freedom of Information Act litigation are available online in a searchable database at: www.aclu.org/torture

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