Torture and Other Ill-Treatment
In the years since 9/11, the U.S. government has repeatedly violated both international and domestic prohibitions on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in the name of fighting terrorism.
Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment must stop, and those responsible for authorizing and implementing it must be held accountable.
The UN Convention Against Torture defines torture as "…the intentional infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering for purposes such as obtaining information or a confession, or punishing, intimidating or coercing someone." Torture is always illegal. "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."
Abuse of prisoners doesn’t have to be torture to be illegal. Cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment (CID) is also illegal under international and U.S. law. CID includes any harsh or neglectful treatment that could damage a detainee’s physical or mental health or any punishment intended to cause physical or mental pain or suffering, or to humiliate or degrade the person being punished.
While it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between torture and CID, there are two key differences. First, torture constitutes a more severe degree of pain or suffering. Second, torture is the result of a deliberate and purposeful act aimed at imposing great suffering, while CID could be the result of accident or neglect. Both torture and CID are illegal.
In the years since 9/11, the U.S. government has repeatedly violated both international and domestic prohibitions on torture and CID in the name of fighting terrorism.
* The Bush Administration decided the Geneva Conventions would not apply to detainees held in Guantánamo Bay (a decision later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court) Article III of the Geneva Convention
* The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel produced a series of “torture memos,” which mutilated the law so as to restrict the definition of CID and to make certain torture practices seem legal under U.S. law;
* U.S. interrogations of suspects in the “war on terror” have included such cruel and inhuman techniques as prolonged isolation and sleep deprivation, intimidation by the use of a dog, sexual and other humiliation, stripping, hooding, the use of loud music, white noise, and exposure to extreme temperatures;
* The CIA used waterboarding – illegal as torture under international and U.S. law – to interrogate three “high-value” detainees;
* The U.S. began to send detainees for interrogation to countries known to use torture;
* President Bush admitted that several high-level officials in his Administration met secretly to authorize specific interrogation methods otherwise prohibited.
Numerous instances of torture and CID by U.S. personnel – confirmed by U.S. officials who took part in or witnessed these events – have been fed by a climate of impunity and the failure of either the executive branch or Congress to conduct a comprehensive, impartial, and independent investigation into detention policies and practices.
This has had a corrosive effect on respect for human rights around the world. The U.S. has lost influence over the behavior of other governments. U.S. misconduct has encouraged others to feel they have license to violate international law. And these practices make U.S. citizens vulnerable to abusive treatment when they are abroad.
Amnesty International is calling on the United States to adhere to its own professed values and help strengthen, instead of weaken, international compliance with universal standards of human rights.