Human Rights First Calls on Congress to Fortify Efforts to Prevent Torture

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Brenda Bowser Soder / bowsersoderb@humanrightsfirst.org / 202-370-3323

Human Rights First Calls on Congress to Fortify Efforts to Prevent Torture

WASHINGTON - Today, as the Senate Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and
the Courts holds a hearing to examine "what went wrong" in the Bush
Administration's Office of Legal Counsel as it authorized the CIA's
unprecedented use of torture, Human Rights First called on Congress to
fortify legal standards designed to prevent and punish torture in order
to better protect America's security and the safety of our troops, and
to restore the nation's reputation as a leader in human rights.

In a statement submitted for the record at the request of presiding
Subcommittee chairman Sheldon Whitehouse, Human Rights First's chief
executive Elisa Massimino noted that a recent study had found that the
use of torture and other cruelty obstructs efforts to combat terrorism
and that bolstering standards of humane treatment enhances national
security. She stated, "These revelations reinforce the conclusion that
the CIA's program was illegal under domestic and international law and
that Congress and the Obama administration must take additional steps
to ensure that such forms of official cruelty are never again
authorized or employed by the U.S. government."

Massimino's testimony detailed a series of steps Congress and the
Obama Administration should take to promote an accurate legal
interpretation of the humane treatment standards the Bush
administration legal opinions attempted to distort, obscure and evade.
Among the recommendations were the following:

  • Uphold a single standard of humane treatment across the government
    for all interrogations, and ensure transparency in the interpretation
    and enforcement of that standard;
  • Publicly release key documents that summarize or attempt to justify cruel treatment;
  • Ensure proper reform and increased oversight of the Office of Legal Counsel;
  • Provide proper accounting of and accountability for abuses against prisoners.

"Lack of accountability for torture and cruel treatment creates a
culture of impunity, setting the stage for future abuses," Massimino
noted. "A full understanding of how policies of torture and abuse came
to be authorized at the highest levels of government is vital to
forging responsible forward-looking policies. To this end, a
nonpartisan inquiry should be established to examine the facts and
circumstances related to U.S. government detention and interrogation
operations since September 11, 2001; to assess the strategic impact of
these operations; to identify lessons learned; to make recommendations
to avoid future abuses; and to make its findings public."

In June 2007, Human Rights First issued a joint report with Physicians for Human Rights entitled Leave No Marks: Enhanced Interrogation Techniques and the Risk of Criminality.
The report was the first comprehensive evaluation of the nature and
extent of harm likely to result from "enhanced" interrogation
techniques that were authorized for use in the CIA program, as well as
the legal risks faced by interrogators who used them. Since then, Human
Rights First has continued to call for a full accounting of this failed
program and has urged lawmakers to take steps to prevent repetition of
past mistakes.

"For the safety of U.S. personnel, the United States must make clear
to the rest of the world that it has abandoned abusive practices and
the flawed legal reasoning of the past," Massimino concluded.

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Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.

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