Rights Groups Ask Government For Proof That Detainees in U.S. Custody Are Not Being Tortured
Editor's Note: This story has been adapted from a press release jointly issued by the rights groups mentioned in it.
WASHINGTON, October 7, 2003-Citing news reports that the United States government may have tortured detainees or subjected them to "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment," the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and medical and veterans' groups today asked agency officials for proof that that the US is honoring its obligations under domestic and international law.
"The government's blanket assurances that it is not engaging in torture or illegal interrogations, while welcome, are not enough," said Amrit Singh, a staff attorney with the ACLU. "Those assurances have failed to address numerous reports documenting the torture of individuals held in U.S. custody. We are asking for records that will demonstrate whether the government is in fact complying with its obligations under domestic and international law."
In January 2003, after the release of news accounts about abuses of detainees, President Bush issued a statement saying that the United States "is committed to the world-wide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example."
Today's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request-the first of its kind to address torture-seeks details on just how the Bush Administration is "leading this fight." The ACLU and CCR filed the request on behalf of their organizations as well as Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Peace and Veterans for Common Sense.
The groups are seeking documentation on the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody-including two men who died-as well as on detainees who were handed over by the US to countries known to employ torture against those in their custody. The request cited numerous credible news reports suggesting that the maltreatment of detainees "may be accepted and even encouraged by senior officials."
"These reports, if true, could severely undermine the credibility of American efforts to combat torture and promote the rule of law," said Steven Watt, a CCR attorney. "It is imperative that the government gives a proper accounting for its actions. This is the whole purpose of our request today."
Veterans groups joining today's action expressed concern that US-condoned torture could be used to justify mistreatment of American troops by enemy powers.
"It is of vital interest to military men and women all over the world that the protections against torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment be even-handedly applied by all nations at all times," said Wilson "Woody" Powell, Executive Director of Veterans For Peace, an organization whose members served the United States in conflicts from World War II through Gulf War I.
Medical groups also expressed concern about the US engaging in torture. "In addition to the tremendously damaging physical and psychological consequences of torture, it is a notoriously unreliable method of obtaining information; victims frequently confess to whatever their torturers want to hear," said Leonard Rubenstein, Executive Director of Physicians for Human Rights. The group was the principal organizer of the United Nations international guidelines for documentation of torture and its consequences.
Today's action came as the ACLU prepared to launch a new campaign to bring internationally recognized human rights law to the American justice system. At a conference taking place October 9-11 at the Carter Center in Atlanta, the ACLU will hold workshops to help lawyers and others develop legal and organizing strategies for enforcing human rights in such areas as criminal justice, economic justice, the rights of non-citizens and women's rights. Today's FOIA request is an example of such strategies, the ACLU said.
For more information on the conference, go here. Registration for the event is already closed.
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This story was published on October 10, 2003.