The truth about torture
Published: Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 19, 2013 at 7:39 p.m.
For more than four decades, in the service of Democratic and Republican presidents, it was often my job to persuade foreign governments to adhere to international law and observe the highest standards of conduct in human rights
Unfortunately, the U.S. government’s use of torture against suspected terrorists, and its failure to fully acknowledge and condemn it, has made the exercise of diplomacy far more daunting. By authorizing and permitting torture in response to a global terrorist threat, U.S. leaders committed a grave error that has undermined our values, principles and moral stature; eroded our global influence; and placed our soldiers, diplomats and intelligence officers in even greater jeopardy.
It’s not just the Bush-Cheney administration that bears responsibility for diminished U.S. standing, although the worst abuses took place in the years immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Obama administration also has failed to be as open and accountable on such fundamental questions of law, morality and principle as a great power that widely supports human rights needs to be.
What can be done to mitigate the damage and set this country on a better course? First and foremost, Americans need to confront the truth. Let’s stop resorting to euphemisms and call
Too much information about the abuse of detainees remains hidden from the American people. Specifically, the Obama administration’s ongoing concealment of the details about our use of torture has made it impossible for the United States to comply with its legal obligations under the U.N. Convention Against Torture and has contributed to a disturbing level of public support for torturing suspected terrorists.
President Barack Obama should direct relevant officials to declassify as many related documents as possible as quickly as possible
Second, Congress needs to work with the administration to close the loopholes that allowed torture to occur under a pretense of legality. In 2009, Obama signed an executive order giving interrogators clear instructions about permissible techniques.
But future presidents could reverse course with the stroke of a pen
To ensure that cannot happen, the federal Anti-Torture Statute should be amended to make clear that the deliberate infliction of severe pain and suffering is torture
Third, the United States must not transfer detainees to torture in other countries. Such transfers, known as
Democracy and torture cannot peacefully coexist in the same body politic. Successful human rights diplomacy and torture can’t either. Our country and its place in the world
Thomas R. Pickering
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