Saturday, May 06, 2006


An "Absurd" Defense of U.S. Torture Policy

Fri May 05, 2006 at 06:09:33 PM PDT

The U.S. launched a defense of its policy on human rights today at a hearing meant to evaluate American compliance with the U.N. Convention Against Torture. It marked the first time in six years that the U.S. has appeared before the U.N. panel. The panelists grilled the U.S. delegation on Guantanamo, the U.S. definition of torture, and more. In its written report to the committee, the U.S. delegation made the following statement:

"The US government does not permit, tolerate, or condone torture, or other unlawful practices, by its personnel or employees under any circumstances,"

It is against that blunt denial of abuse that the committee is examining U.S. compliance with its international obligations. The committee is examining what one U.N. official called "the longest list of issues I have ever seen." Despite being pounded with report after report of detainee abuse, the U.S. delegation stuck to its blanket denial, repeatedly dismissing allegations of torture as "absurd."

John B. Bellinger III, the legal adviser to the State Department, who led the delegation, said that criticism of United States policy has become "so hyperbolic as to be absurd." He added: "I would ask you not to believe every allegation that you have heard."

And here is Bellinger on extraordinary rendition (which is sending prisoners to countries where they are likely to be tortured):

Investigators for the European Parliament said last month that they had evidence the C.I.A. had flown 1,000 undeclared flights over Europe since 2001, in some cases transporting terrorism suspects kidnapped within the European Union to countries using torture. The practice is known as "rendition."

Mr. Bellinger said it was an "absurd insinuation" that all of these planes carried terrorism suspects.

But the panel wouldn't let Bellinger dismiss their concerns as "absurd"; rather, they pointed out the inconsistency of the U.S. position:

In cases where the American government has sent prisoners to countries with poor rights records -- a policy the administration defends, saying it helps to get dangerous individuals out of the United States -- it seeks assurances they will not be tortured, Mr. Bellinger added.

The panel was dubious. "The very fact that you are asking for diplomatic assurances means you are in doubt," said the committee's chairman, Andreas Mavrommatis.

The environment may have been new, but the tactics were the same. Whether in front of a U.N. body or Congress itself, these officials shrugged off reports of torture as "isolated incidents." They were tight-lipped on issues from secret CIA prisons to rendition, claiming that such intelligence matters were classified.

But in a rare moment of admission, the delegation admitted that they had documented 29 detainee deaths resulting from torture. US Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights Barry Lowenkron claimed that more than 600 incidents of abuse were investigated, and that 250 people have been held accountable for abusing detainees.

There have been a handful of torturers who have received prison terms for their actions: Charles Graner was sentenced to 10 years, Ivan Fredrick was sentenced to 8 years, and Lyndie England was sentenced to 3 years in prison. In other cases, detainee abuse was met with reprimands.

Of course, those who established our dangerous policy relating to torture have skirted any responsibility, choosing instead to employ the "few bad apples" defense. Those who told interrogators that anything short of organ failure or death was fair game have yet to be held accountable for establishing a policy that violated both the letter and spirit of the Convention Against Torture.

The panel, headed up by Andreas Mavrommatis from Cyprus, is set to receive written answers from the U.S. delegation, and it will release a report on its findings about U.S. compliance with the Convention Against Torture by May 19th.

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