"For the purposes of this Convention, the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions. " - Article I, paragraph 1 of the Convention Against Torture ratified by the United States on April 18, 1988.
The United Nations Committee Against Torture released its State Report for the United States on May 18, 2006. In an 11-page indictment of the United States the Committee laid bare America’s loss of moral authority in the world. The report was a product of the 36th session of the Committee Against Torture. Of the 7 countries reviewed during the session only the United States provided a written defense of its torture policies to the Committee. More so than the Committee report the written response of the United States demonstrates that the United States has been engaged in a systematic campaign of torture since the attacks of September 11, 2001. The report and the American response shed light on a shameful chapter in American history.
The American defense of torture is based on four pillars of argument:
- The United States defines torture differently than the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
- The Convention Against Torture does not apply during times of armed conflict.
- The Convention Against Torture only applies to the United States when it commits torture on the territory of the United States.
- Kidnapping and disappearance perpetrated by the United States do not constitute torture.
The Committee report indicts the United States on the following grounds:
- The United States should ensure that psychological torture be defined according to the Convention and not according to the U.S. contention that only "prolonged mental harm" constitutes torture. The definition of torture in the Convention clearly states that torture is defined as "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession."
- The Committee cites articles 1 and 16 of the Convention that states that the Convention Against Torture applies at all times and not only during peacetime as the United States has contended. The United States had made the absurd assertion that only the "law of armed conflict" should apply during wars and that applying the Convention Against Torture would "result in an overlap of the different treaties which would undermine the objective of eradicating torture".
- The Committee clarified to the United States that the Convention applies to all territories (including Guantanamo Bay) under the control of the United States, and not only on acts of torture committed by the United States within the borders of the United States. The United States has used this absurd geographical limitation as a basis for perpetrating torture on detainees at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere around the world.
- The Committee chastised the United States for not registering some prisoners and hiding them from international observers. This tactic effectively removes all safeguards against torture.
- The Committee noted that secret detention facilities run by the United States without any international oversight violate the Convention Against Torture. The United States response to the Committee’s inquiry was a "no comment" and is a tacit admission of guilt by the United States.
- The Committee pointed out the obvious fact lost upon the United States that enforced disappearances of persons by the United States is a violation of the Convention Against Torture.
- The Committee informed the United States that extraordinary rendition of persons to countries known to commit torture puts the United States in violation of the Convention Against Torture. This clever sleight of hand by the United States does not absolve it of its responsibilities under the Convention.
- The Committee noted that the indefinite detention of persons at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere is a violation of the Convention Against Torture. The Committee recommended that the Guantanamo Bay detention facility be closed to bring the United States into compliance with the Convention.
- The Committee pointed out that techniques such as "waterboarding", use of dogs and "short shackling" that have led to deaths are a violation of the Convention Against Torture. The United States had argued rather bizarrely that cruel and inhuman punishment is not necessarily torture.
The United States has come a long way from the Clinton days when our biggest moral dilemma was whether or not fallatio constituted sex. The fact that the United States finds itself in the untenable position of arguing that it does not torture on tortured definitions of the word "torture" and geographical jurisdiction of the Convention should give all citizens pause. Our Government is essentially arguing that torturing someone on foreign soil is not torture. Our Government is arguing that the word "torture" can be defined so that most torture (like beating a man until he dies) can be construed as not being "torture". Our Government is arguing that kidnapping someone so that they disappear from the face of this planet is not torture because the person is now a non-person and no one can hear his or her screams. Our Government is arguing that if a bear shits in the woods and no one is there to see it, the bear did not in fact shit in the woods. Our Government is arguing that we can only torture someone if we are at peace with him or her. If we declare war on someone we are free to stick baseball bats up their asses to our hearts’ content and be safe in the delusion that we are not torturing them.
Our Government has lost its collective mind when it comes to torture. Is it any wonder that we are losing hearts and minds in the War on Terror? By our condoning of torture, by our tortured defense of torture, by our complete lack of humanity we are now viewed in the world as a rogue state. This must end.
For centuries the United States has been a beacon of hope for people fleeing torture and persecution. For centuries the wretched of the earth have pointed to the United States and said, "there, that is where there is hope; that is where there is justice." For centuries people have come to our shores with wounds emotional and physical and we have given them shelter and given them solace. We cannot be the great country we have been, the shining example to the World of human dignity and human achievement, if we allow our Government to torture and destroy all that this country has stood for.
This must end. This must end now. We, the people of the United States of America, must say in one voice to our Government that We do not torture. You will not torture, not in Our name. This must end now.