In a series of commitments and pledges to uphold human rights around the globe, among them preventing torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, the United States recently touted its support of the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT).
The timing couldn’t have been more ironic.
These pledges came just as civil society groups, including CCR, submitted written reports responding to the U.S. government’s updates to the Committee on a number of issues. In our submission, we surfaced the many the ways that the U.S.’s report—and its actions—continue to fall short of the Committee’s recommendations and the obligations the U.S. has undertaken as a treaty party. We highlighted examples arising out of our work advocating for torture accountability, an end to indefinite detention without charge or trial at Guantánamo Bay, and justice for victims of police violence. Our report builds on our formal engagement with CAT’s 2014 review of the U.S., which took place in in Geneva, Switzerland. At that review, CCR client and former Guantánamo detainee Murat Kurnaz delivered testimony – the first time the Committee had heard directly from one of the men tortured at Guantánamo.
The U.S. has utterly failed in its obligations to investigate high-level officials for their roles in torture and cruel treatment in the course of U.S. detention and interrogations. In December 2014, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) released the summary of its scathing report on some of the most brutal torture methods used by the CIA. Since then, the Justice Department has doubled down on its refusal to hold officials accountable. The Obama administration – like the Bush administration - has actively blocked efforts on behalf of victims for a remedy, in both habeas proceedings and civil actions. Moreover, no victim of post-9/11 policies has been given their day in court or even received an apology from the executive branch. In the face of inaction at home, CCR continues to pursue accountability abroad under the principle of universal jurisdiction.
CCR also criticized President Obama’s Guantánamo “closure” plan, released late last month. The plan actually continues indefinite detention without charge or trial, as well as the flawed military commissions system—aspects of Guantánamo over which the UN has long expressed concern. By highlighting the continued force-feeding of CCR client and long-term hunger striker Tariq Ba Odah, cleared for release since 2009, as just one example of ongoing abuse and deplorable conditions of confinement, we rebuffed the government’s assertion that there exists a “high standard of humane care and custody” at the prison. We also brought to the Committee’s attention the myriad ways that the President could and should more actively exercise his authority to accelerate the transfer of prisoners already cleared.
Regarding police violence, CCR underlined repeated failures by local prosecutors to indict police officers for killings or other acts of violence, as well as how inadequate internal police department disciplinary systems allow for such officers to stay on the force even after notorious incidents of violence. At times, they even receive promotions.
International human rights bodies, like the Committee Against Torture, have a critical role to play in protecting human rights globally. The United States, like all other countries, must be held to account if the international human rights system is to be successful in protecting and defending the rights of the most vulnerable. CCR engages with international human rights bodies to bring attention to our issues and highlight the experiences of those most impacted by the U.S. government’s failures to protect human rights, so that these committees can assess the U.S. record based on facts, and not just rhetoric or promises. We have a duty to hold the US government accountable when it falls short of its human rights obligations, at home or abroad calling attention to the ways its actions erode not only the U.S.’s reputation as an international human rights leader but the international human rights regime as a whole.