The UN Committee Against Torture Reviews The US

Many contentious issues were raised at the examination of the United States by the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) on November 13–14, as rapporteurs and committee members considered the United States adherence to the said convention.

Ambassador Keith Harper, the US representative to United Nations Human Rights Council initiated the US presentation by explaining how torture violates human rights and US law. Harper continued, that while under the Bush administration boundaries had been crossed, President Obama had made great strides to ensure that no form of torture, or violation of human rights would occur on US soil. Similarly, neither would the US transfer a detainee to a location in which there was the possibility of them experiencing inappropriate treatment. David Bitcall, deputy assistant of the criminal department of the Department of Justice explained that there was rigorous restructuring and reform to ensure that police officers as well as soldiers alike conducted themselves according to the army manual and discrepancies would be and were frequently punished. For example, over the past 5 years, 330 police officers have been reprimanded for misconduct on the job and this reform is only increasing. Bitcall further explained the rational regarding why the US do not use any forms of torture, which he concluded, was an ineffective tactic used to gain information.

Following this introduction, Alessio Bruni, the first of the two rapporteurs of the CAT in charge of the US file, spoke for 35 minutes. His queries included: What concrete measures have been taken to ensure the eradication of torture on American soil and within American facilities? What measures have been taken since August 2014? What progress has been made towards the report about interrogations and torture results being written by a congressional specific group? When will it be published? What is meant by prolonged mental harm? One day? One week? One month? Are detainees registered in CIA sites? If not, does that imply torture tactics are being used? Is the delegation worried the detainee will communicate in their sleep? Regarding Guantanamo Bay, many reports say there should only be 149 at present, how many are there today? And how many are waiting to be moved to another country? How many are suffering enhanced interrogation tactics? How are still kept in detention?

The second rapporteur, Jens Modvig, continued for an additional 25-minute period. The delegation was asked to comment on the death penalty, which in some instances might amount to torture, and the executions; living conditions in detention; the application of the Prison Rape Elimination Act 2003 and the progress made in decreasing or eliminating this phenomenon; and about overcrowding in prisons. On the closing of the Guantanamo detention facility, the country rapporteur noted that in 2013 there had been 166 detainees, and as reported by the media, 149 in May 2014, and asked how many were there today, how many were waiting for transfer to another country, how many were subject to prosecution in the United States, and how many were still kept in detention because they were suspects, but had never received a formal charge against them. Did the United States have a specific plan and timetable for the closure of Guantanamo? What were the reasons for refusal of private meetings between the detainees and the Special Rapporteur on torture? Concerning detention, the country rapporteur stressed that registration of detainees was the first step to prevent torture and asked why it was not considered as such by the United States, and also asked about the regulation of detention facilities used by the CIA to hold people on a short-term, transitory basis. The High Value Detainee Interrogation Group had been established to interrogate the most dangerous terrorists and the delegation was asked to comment on its interrogation techniques, to enable the Committee to see whether they were consistent with the provisions of the Convention.

Concerning this principle of non–refoulement, the US delegation answered that their government did not transfer any individual to a foreign country where it was more likely than not that the person would be subjected to torture. A special task force had been set up to study the return of individuals to ensure that the United States followed the laws and that the persons in question were not transferred to face torture. There had been cases where the United States declined to return individuals even when diplomatic assurances were offered; for example, the United States did not return Uyghurs to China. Further, the on January 22, 2009, President Obama had issued executive order 13491 which required the CIA to close as expeditiously as possible any detention facility it operated, and prohibited it from operating any such facility in the future. The CIA was in full compliance with the requirements of that executive order. The US continued on a just and honest note by welcoming the visit to the country by the Special Rapporteur on torture Mr. Mendez, and a visit to Guantanamo detention facility.

George Tugushi, CAT Vice-Chairperson, concluded by thanking the delegation for its engagement with the Committee and agreed with the members of the delegation that the best test for any nation committed to this Convention and to the rule of law was not whether it ever made mistakes, but whether and how it corrected them. Ambassador Harper gave the last session words by saying that the United States and the Committee shared common ground and common values.

During the review, a group of activists stood up in the back of room, raised their right arms with clenched fists and stood silent, in protest to the events in Ferguson, Missouri. Security approached the activists who remained standing, undeterred, for around 15 minutes.

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