The United States is telling the United Nations that it now considers a ban against torture to apply to prisoners held by the U.S. overseas.
Under the Bush administration, the U.S. interpreted the U.N. Convention Against Torture to apply only within U.S. borders. That meant the U.S. didn’t have to follow the ban on cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment at places like the Guantánamo Bay prison or aboard U.S. ships.
President Barack Obama took a different approach and banned certain interrogation methods after taking office. But until now, the U.S. hadn’t formally conveyed that policy to the U.N. body monitoring compliance with the treaty.
The White House says the U.S. will tell the U.N. this week that it interprets the ban as applying anywhere under U.S. government control, including Guantánamo Bay.
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The conversations are occurring in Geneva, at a two-day hearing of the U.N. Committee Against Torture where Alessio Bruni of Italy, one of the panel’s chief investigators, told the high-level U.S. delegation that it must answer for alleged violations ranging from CIA rendition at so-called black sites to police brutality and Guantánamo Bay conditions.
He asked what concrete measures have been taken to implement Obama’s “clear” directives against torture.
Tuesday, the committee took private testimony from death penalty experts, anti-torture activists, former Guantánamo Bay detainee Murat Kurnaz and the parents of Michael Brown, the victim in the Ferguson, Missouri shooting case that has riveted a nation.
A decision is expected later this month about whether Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, will face criminal charges for fatally shooting Brown, 18, who was black and unarmed.
Former detainee Kurnaz and Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr., were scheduled to speak to reporters at the United Nations in Geneva later Wednesday.
The U.N. Committee Against Torture, which has 10 independent experts, is responsible for reviewing the records of all 156 U.N. member countries that have ratified the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which also prohibits all “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Mary McLeod, the State Department’s acting legal adviser, conceded the U.S. record since the 9/11 attacks “did not always live up to our own values,” including those it is obliged to uphold under the treaty, which took effect in 1987. The United States signed on to the treaty in 1988 and ratified it in 1994.
“As President Obama has acknowledged, we crossed the line and we take responsibility for that,” she said. “The United States has taken important steps to ensure adherence to its legal obligations.”