New UN Report Sheds Light On America’s Human Rights Problem

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GitmoInterrogationBy Ramona Wadi

[A detainee is carried by military police after being interrogated by officials at Camp X-Ray at the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.] [T]he United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) recently released a 15-page report that criticizes human rights violations committed by the United States. The report covers a wide spectrum of issues, ranging from the country’s handling of immigration to its history of torture, and demonstrates the imperial power’s persistent and systematic abuses that reflect the impunity it has bestowed upon itself.

The report was issued following a two-day review of the United States’ compliance with the Convention Against Torture. The review, held last month in Geneva, was attended by Jamil Dakwar, director of the Human Rights Program of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Dakwar commented on the U.S. government’s wilful abstention from accountability in matters relating to torture — including its failure to assume responsibility for atrocities committed under the George W. Bush administration, human rights abuses in U.S. prisons, and militarization and immigration policies that are imposing state-sanctioned methods of violence upon people fleeing atrocious situations, thus impinging upon their right of refuge.

“The Obama administration needs to match its rhetoric with actions supporting full accountability for torture,” Dakwar said with regard to the continued refusal to release the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 500-page report on the CIA’s torture and interrogation practices during the second Bush era.

According to Newsmax, Sen. Dianne Feinstein has been negotiating the publication of the report, which some in the U.S. government have said “could endanger the lives of American diplomats and citizens overseas and jeopardize U.S. relations with other countries.”

In August, the results of the CIA’s so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding, were to be made official through the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee. At that time, Obama seemed to criticize the practices, but later retracted this criticism by stating that excessive condemnation of national security officials would be unjust.


Abuses at home and abroad, sanctioned by legislation

A large portion of the UNCAT report is, in fact, a discussion of U.S. torture practices both at home and abroad, including the abuses carried out at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay Naval base and detention center. Proceeding from an observation that a specific definition of torture has not yet been introduced at the federal level, the UNCAT recommends that specifically criminalizing torture to be enshrined in U.S. law — a recommendation that goes against the power wielded by the government nationwide and internationally.

As has been constantly evident since Bush initiated the so-called “War on Terror,” the manipulation of legislation has been instrumental in sanctioning human rights violations under the guise of security and defense. Documents released on June 22, 2004 establish the administration’s policy on enhanced interrogation techniques through a series of legal manipulations and interpretations of the War Crimes Act of 1984 and the Third Geneva Convention.

According to the memo penned by then-Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee, the U.S. government’s responsibility toward the relevant legislation is rendered invalid with regard to Afghanistan due to its classification as a “failed state.”

Further, those captured by the Taliban were deprived of prisoner of war status. This led to another memo by Deputy Assistant Attorney General John C. Yoo, advising that torture during interrogations would not violate the 1984 Torture Convention and assuring White House Counsel Alberto A. Gonzales of the impossibility of the U.S. facing proceedings for such abuses at the International Criminal Court.

Another contradictory element came from former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who insisted that al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners were not entitled to prisoner of war status, as stipulated in the Geneva Convention of 1949. This resulted in torture being permissible at the same time that detainees were also required to be treated humanely.


Futile exercises in curbing U.S. domination

The UNCAT document further portrays the widespread oppressive system implemented by the U.S. government in its quest for absolute domination, as well as international inability to effectively alter the course of human rights violations.

From Guantanamo Bay to prisoners in U.S. prisons, the issue of absolute control through excessive use of force meant to extract subjugation and compliance is evident, countered only by detailed — and repetitive — conclusions and recommendations that the U.S. is urged to adopt and come into compliance. The futile and predictable outcomes of such reports allow scrutiny to occur with an already established backdrop of impunity.

Historically, the U.S. has been at the forefront of practicing and exporting terror and torture. From the support given to right-wing dictatorships in Latin America and the safe haven given to torturers in the U.S., to the trend of foreign intervention against resisting countries in the name of fighting “terror,” the imperialist power’s legacy in this regard has had serious ramifications upon national and international accountability and responsibility.

Parallels have been established with regard to torture practices committed on U.S. military bases abroad and in U.S. prisons. Lance Tapley has expounded upon this point, in particular with regard to the practice of solitary confinement in super maximum security prisons, included in the essay collection, “The United States and Torture: interrogation, incarceration and abuse.” Similar practices constitute an extension and refinement of torture applied to victims of U.S. violence abroad — measures which have been reproduced in varying degrees by other countries pledging allegiance to the U.S. and seeking to suppress dissent among their citizens. Of notable mention is the American Psychological Association’s indulgence of U.S. torture practices by allowing its members to participate in state interrogations of detainees.

Internationally, the question of accountability is further undermined by the reality of U.S. dominance. This is reflected in institutions such as the U.N., whose very existence depends upon protecting human rights abusers like the U.S. Without this, the body would be limited in its function as false mediator for the promotion of human rights and dignity.

To date, there has been no formidable international deterrent to protect civilians from torture — largely because the U.N., like the U.S., operates behind a shield of impunity that renders its actions erroneously justifiable through a framework constructed and maintained by imperialism.

Originally published at Mint Press.

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