Bill of Rights Defense Campaign

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November 4, 2005

Organizations, Local Governments, Veterans, and the Public Urge End to U.S. Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment

Nancy Talanian, Director, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, 413-582-0110;
Chip Pitts, Board President, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, 214-906-9424

As Congress prepares to consider attaching Senator McCain's amendment banning torture to the 2006 Defense appropriations bill, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC) and more than 40 national organizations, local government bodies, veterans groups, and retired military officers have issued a letter calling upon the president and members of Congress to ensure an end to the U.S. use of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, and extraordinary rendition. The BORDC also presented a petition opposing torture, signed by more than 1200 U.S. residents, to the conferees who will decide whether to attach McCain's amendment to the final Defense budget bill. The Senate passed the amendment on October 5 by a 90-9 vote.

The text of both the letter and petition urge the President and Congress “to affirm that the United States may not, through its own actions or through others acting on its behalf or behest, engage in any acts of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment anywhere in the world.”

In clear and forceful language, the BORDC letter affirms that any such acts of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment are “absolute wrongdoings in themselves.” But it also points out that degrading practices already used in Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere by the U.S., and rendering prisoners to countries known to use torture, undermine the effect at which they purportedly aim, which is to make the country and the world safer from terrorism.

“In addition to inflicting pain,” argues the BORDC, “these acts have placed U.S. military and allied personnel at even greater risk. They have also damaged our country’s reputation in the eyes of the world and may have discouraged other countries from supporting and assisting us in combating terrorism. They fuel hatred for the United States, giving ammunition to our nation’s enemies; and allow governments known to abuse human rights to cite the example of the United States as justification for their disregard of human rights.” Quoting both the Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation and Army Regulation, the letter goes on to cite the unreliable results of intelligence extracted by torture, and regulatory prohibitions against “inhumane treatment,” specifically: “murder, torture, corporal punishment, mutilation, the taking of hostages, sensory deprivation, collective punishments, execution without trial by proper authority, and all cruel and degrading treatment” such as “rape, forced prostitution, assault and theft, insults, public curiosity, bodily injury, and reprisals of any kind.”

“Congress has an opportunity to make Senator McCain’s amendment the law of our land and to send a clear, unequivocal message to U.S. troops, the CIA, the American people, and the world that our government will not tolerate the torture and abuse of its detainees,” said Nancy Talanian, BORDC Executive Director.

Citing the U.S.’s untenable position as a party to the Geneva Conventions, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the BORDC letter also argues that the U.S. is bound to prevent “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” by its own Constitutional Fifth Amendment ban on self-incrimination, Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment; and Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection under the law.

Pointing out that for more than a century the U.S. was well-served by a policy that prohibited torture, the BORDC affirms that “current practices have made the world a more dangerous place, especially for members of our armed forces, and have diminished our country’s standing and the example we set for other countries.”

The petition, which is a collaboration of the BORDC and the Center for Constitutional Rights, also addressed to President Bush and to Congress, urges these officials to do everything in their power to “stop the torture that threatens the safety of our troops should they fall into enemy hands and that has critically damaged the reputation of the United States around the world.” The petition urges that the “prohibition [against torture] must be restored in U.S. policy and practice,” if we are to “restore adherence to our Constitution, which you have pledged to uphold and defend.”

But the petition also demands that past torture not be forgiven or forgotten, and calls for a full investigation by an independent prosecutor into the roles of high-ranking officials including Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzales in torture at Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, and other U.S.-run facilities around the world; administration adherence to the Supreme Court's 2004 decisions allowing detainees in U.S. custody access to attorneys and the chance to hear the charges against them and to challenge their detentions in a court of law; an end to the practice of hiding thousands of ghost detainees from the International Committee of the Red Cross and beyond the reach of law; and an end to the unlawful practice of extraordinary rendition whereby torture is outsourced to other countries.

BORDC Board President Chip Pitts notes that “only a nonpartisan, independent investigation of these shameful and counterproductive acts, which were authorized at the top levels of the U.S. administration, can restore our national credibility and security. The investigations completed to date have implicated only low-level soldiers and none of the top officers or civilian officials, and they have completely ignored the key roles of the CIA and private corporate contractors in abuses and 'extraordinary renditions.' The failure to get to the root of the problem allows this administration to continue its disturbing pattern of secrecy, deception, propaganda, and cover-ups of significant intelligence failures, errors, and abuses.”