UN Torture Panel Has Long List of 'Concerns' About US

by Simon Freeman

Although couched in the measured language of international diplomacy, today's report from the UN Committee against Torture pulls no punches in its condemnation of the United States' conduct of the War on Terror.

The panel accepts that the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington caused "profound suffering to many residents".  It acknowledges that the US is engaged in protecting its security and its citizens in a complex legal and political context.

But of the 11 pages in the report summary, only one page is devoted to Positive Aspects.  The rest is given over to a list of Subjects of Concern, in the form of 23 'regrets', summarized below, which it recommends be addressed.

Jennifer Daskal, of Human Rights Watch, said that the report was the first time that the US had been held to account for abuses of human rights in its operations post-September 11.

She said: "We hope that this strong and robust criticism is taken to heart, and the issues raised are addressed."

The Committee regrets:

*  the US opinion that the Geneva Convention does not apply to, and would undermine, its War on Terror;

*  the US attempt to sidestep provisions of the Convention by applying it only to US territory, rather than areas under US control;

*  the fact that detainees are not always registered, depriving them of safeguards against acts of torture;

*  allegations of secret detention facilities which are not accessible to the International Red Cross;

*  the US refusal to comment over the existence of such facilities, and the allegations of torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment which have emanated from them;

*  the US involvement in enforced disappearances and its refusal to accept that this is a form of torture;

*  the rendition of subjects, without judicial procedure, to states where they face a real risk of torture;

*  the use of secret 'diplomatic assurances' to justify deporting detainees to country's with poor human rights records;

*  the indefinite detention of prisoners without charge at Guantanamo Bay without legal safeguards or judicial assessment of justification;

*  the inadequate training provided to police and military personnel on the UN's prohibition of torture;

*  the 2002 authorization of the use of interrogation techniques, such as water-boarding, shackling, sexual humiliation, and dogs, which have resulted in the deaths of some detainees;

*  the apparent impunity of police and military personnel accused of torture and not prosecuted;

*  the lenient sentences given to many people convicted of torture;

*  the proposal to withdraw the right of habeas corpus to Guantanamo detainees;

*  the difficulties that victims of abuse have faced in obtaining redress and compensation;

*  the apparent failure to ban evidence obtained under torture from being used at military commissions, and the limitations placed on the right of detainees to complain;

*  substantiated information which indicates that US sanctioned executions can be accompanied by severe pain and suffering;

*  numerous, reliable reports of sexual assault of detainees and sexual violence perpetrated by detainees on each other, to which 'persons of differing sexual orientation' are particularly vulnerable;

*  the humiliation of female prisoners and the shackling of female detainees during childbirth;

*  the large number of children sentenced to life imprisonment;

*  the extensive use of electro-shock devices which have caused several deaths;

*  the harsh regime imposed in 'supermaximum' security prisons, and prolonged isolation periods which may be used as a form of punishment;

*  reports of brutality and excessive force used by law enforcement officers and the numerous allegations of the ill-treatment of racial minorities, migrants and homosexuals which have not been properly investigated.