Peter Brown: Torture, U.S. National Security Council Reverses Position

In contrast to positions previously taken by the U.S. government, the delegation will affirm that U.S. obligations under Article 16, which prohibits cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, do not apply exclusively inside the territorial United States. 

By Peter Brown  November 12, 2014

Editor’s Note: Also note the upcoming workshops this Friday listed below.

In the context of the UN’s review in Geneva of US compliance with the Convention Against Torture and in fact on the very day that the UN review committee is beginning its formal review of the US, the National Security Council spokesperson announces a dramatic reversal of position, stating:

In contrast to positions previously taken by the U.S. government, the delegation will affirm that U.S. obligations under Article 16, which prohibits cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, do not apply exclusively inside the territorial United States.  The delegation in Geneva will make clear, consistent with the text, negotiating history, and the Senate ratification process, that U.S. obligations under Article 16 (as well as under other provisions of the Convention with the same jurisdictional language) apply in places outside the United States that the U.S. government controls as a governmental authority.   The delegation will also make clear our conclusion that the United States currently exercises such control at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and over all proceedings conducted there, and with respect to U.S.-registered ships and aircraft.

See full statement of the NSC spokesperson below.

It would be fascinating to know the backstory on this — i.e., what specific interests and actors were the major catalysts in the formal shift in policy (of course it will be complicated, but it is an important story to be told).  But, for sure, congratulations are in order for the thousands of activists here in the US who have worked tirelessly on torture issues for so many years.


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jamesjpn.netAlthough there remain many other human rights issues before the UN review committee today on which the US will be unwilling to acknowledge its violations, it is good to celebrate this significant point of breakthrough and use it to redouble our concern and efforts on other human rights  issues addressed by the Convention Against Torture, such as (for example) US failure to ensure “prompt, impartial, and effective” investigation of law enforcement misconduct.  It is important to note that the parents of Michael Brown are in Geneva today as part of a grassroots presence pressing for US implementation of the CAT’s (and other human rights treaties’) obligations here at home, at the state and local level, where, after all, most repressive police activity takes place.

For persons interested to learn more about the link between implementation of the human rights treaties (such as the CAT) and overcoming racism, I’d recommend attention to two workshops in the Overcoming Racism Conference this weekend at Metropolitan State University.  More info at http://www.overcomingracism.org/2014/home.html.  The two workshops are:

  • A Rights-Based Approach to Racial Equity Work — Workshop Time A: Friday 1:15-2:45
    Learn how a human rights approach can support anti-racism work by transforming organizational goals, strategies, and methods. Rights-based programming translates human rights principles into reality, combating inequality, exclusion, and powerlessness. Through theory, practice, and reflection, participants will be able to envision concrete steps for using human rights in their own work.
    Madeline Lohman, Program Associate, The Advocates for Human Rights; Emily Good, Staff Attorney, The Advocates for Human Rights; Sarah Herder, Director of Education, The Advocates for Human Rights
  • Fantasy or Vision? The Struggle to Advance a Human Rights Agenda in the United States Download workshop resources
    Workshop participants will examine human rights tools and examine their relevance (current use and potential application) to advance racial equity/health equity via the Minnesota legislature and the Minneapolis and St. Paul city councils in conjunction with concerted community action by and with those directly affected by the lack of human rights awareness and implementation.
    Judge LaJune Lange (retired) Honorary Consul for South Africa for the State of Minnesota, President, International Leadership Institute; Professor Rose Brewer, Ph.D., Department of African American & African Studies, University of Minnesota, Chair, Rhonda Williams Award Committee of the International Association of Feminists; Peter W. Brown, Attorney Minnesota Tenants Union, Member, US Human Rights Network’s Task Force on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

STATEMENT FROM WHITE OFFICE PRESS OFFICE

From: White House Press Office [mailto:noreply@messages.whitehouse.gov]
Sent: Wednesday, November 12, 2014 06:01 AM
Subject: Statement by NSC Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan on the U.S. Presentation to the Committee Against Torture

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 12, 2014

Statement by NSC Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan on the U.S. Presentation to the Committee Against Torture

Today in Geneva, the United States began its periodic presentation to the Committee Against Torture, a body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment by States that are party to it.  The Administration embraces the universal values enshrined in the Convention Against Torture—which the United States signed in 1988 and ratified in 1994—and affirms the U.S. government’s deep commitment to meeting its obligations under the Convention.

During the course of the two-day review, the U.S. delegation will underscore that all U.S. personnel are legally prohibited under international and domestic law from engaging in torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment at all times, and in all places.  There are no gaps, either in the legal prohibitions against these acts by U.S. personnel, or in the United States’ commitment to the values enshrined in the Convention, and the United States pledges to continue working with our partners in the international community toward the achievement of the Convention’s ultimate objective: a world without torture.

In preparation for this week’s presentation, senior lawyers from across the U.S. government have considered questions posed by the Committee about important U.S. legal positions with respect to the Convention, and the delegation will be articulating a number of changes and clarifications agreed upon in the course of that review process:

·         In contrast to positions previously taken by the U.S. government, the delegation will affirm that U.S. obligations under Article 16, which prohibits cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, do not apply exclusively inside the territorial United States.  The delegation in Geneva will make clear, consistent with the text, negotiating history, and the Senate ratification process, that U.S. obligations under Article 16 (as well as under other provisions of the Convention with the same jurisdictional language) apply in places outside the United States that the U.S. government controls as a governmental authority.   The delegation will also make clear our conclusion that the United States currently exercises such control at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and over all proceedings conducted there, and with respect to U.S.-registered ships and aircraft.

·         The U.S. delegation will affirm the United States’ obligation to abide by the exclusionary rule set forth in Article 15 of the Convention in the Periodic Review Board process for law of war detainees at Guantanamo, as well as in military commissions.

·        The delegation will also clarify the United States’ view that a time of war does not suspend the operation of the Convention, which continues to apply even when a State is engaged in armed conflict.  Although the more specialized laws of war—which contain parallel categorical bans on torture and other inhumane treatment in situations of armed conflict—take precedence over the Convention where the two conflict, the laws of war do not generally displace the Convention’s application.

###

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