Twenty-six years ago today, Ronald Wilson Reagan, the President of the United State of America, signed the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Even though Reagan isn’t my favorite former U.S. President, I have to give him kudos for signing this document. The Convention declares that the signatories won’t torture people and will prosecute anyone who does so. You’d think signing something like this would be a no-brainer, but seeing how hard it can be to get the U.S. government to commit to anything, I think Reagan deserves points for this one.
It’s a surprisingly solid treaty. For example, if a politician tries to justify bad treatment by stating that, say, waterboarding isn’t really torture*, well, the Convention has that covered. Even though, in this case, the politician is factually incorrect, his attempt to use semantics to get out of it doesn’t help under Article 16 of the Convention: Even if its not “torture,” if it’s degrading or inhumane? It’s illegal.
There’s no “Jack Bauer” exception to the Convention. Article 2 makes it clear that there are no circumstances under which torture is permissible in any area under the jurisdiction or authority of a signatory state. Articles 12 and 13 require investigation and prosecution of torturers. Article 8 ensures that torture is a crime for which extradition applies. Article 15 makes it illegal to use evidence gained by torture in court. Oh, and Article 5 establishes universal jurisdiction in cases where extradition won’t occur.
Yep, 26 years ago to, the Ronald Reagan signed Convention against Torture. Fast-forward to today, and:
The folks at Lowering The Bar have a good summary (and links to the conclusions from the Senate report). Their summary is so good, in fact, that I’m going to gank their bullet points:
- The CIA tortured people;
- Even under to the DOJ’s definition of “torture,” it tortured people;
- It lied about how many people it tortured;
- It lied about how brutal the torture was;
- It “avoided or impeded” congressional oversight;
- It lied about whether the torture worked; and
- The torture didn’t work.
Obviously, given that the U.S. is signatory to an international treaty against exactly this sort of thing, this is Very Bad News for some people. Lest you think that this is just me piling on the Bush era hawks like Cheney and Rumsfeld, the determination that the CIA was involved in torture is also bad news for the current administration. If they knew about this and haven’t investigated and prosecuted the allegations, or, heaven forbid, they’ve allowed the same bad actors to continue acting badly or even ordered them to do so…? Then they’re every bit as culpable under the law.
Thus far, only the Bush crew appear to be getting any heat for this, but that may change, especially if it turns out that the Obama administration has continued or even expanded on the lawlessness of the previous administration. It would certainly help explain why Obama’s been trying to shut down the Spanish probe.
Now, I have no clue if anyone in the U.S. is actually guilty of torture, let alone specific people who should be prosecuted. However, there does seem to be reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing, that there is, without question, a binding legal framework for investigating and prosecuting any wrongdoing that might have occurred. Unfortunately, I don’t have a great deal of confidence that this will actually happen.
So, hooray for President Reagan and the United States for signing the anti-torture convention twenty six years ago today. Too bad the country couldn’t stick to it.