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Center for Human Rights, former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture warn against reinstating torture

We reject claims that torture "works." Torture is illegal under domestic and international law, and its prohibition is absolute. There is no exception whatsoever under any circumstance to the absolute prohibition of torture, and the reason is simple: torture is immoral. "Torture dehumanizes both victims and perpetrators, destroys the fabric of society, weakens public institutions and the rule of law, and renders our communities less safe," said Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law faculty co-director and former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Professor Juan E. Mendez.

The claim that torture has purportedly worked in specific cases has been debunked very thoroughly by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program. The Report concluded that “the CIA's use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees.The report, available here, actually shows that the best intelligence was obtained through interrogation tactics that were rapport-based and that did not involve torture. In addition to these facts, the claim that torture “works” does not exist, and cannot be considered in a vacuum. Such claims cannot be disassociated from the serious “costs” involved, for example: the strong potential for bad intelligence sending officials on wild goose chases and squandering precious resources that can no longer be used effectively; and that a government’s use of torture exposes officials and institutions to discredit and distrust by its citizenry. Erosion of faith in a government’s trustworthiness can have many negative consequences.

Let us be clear, too, that the use of torture does not make people “safe.” The use of torture makes people far less safe. Torture leads to more torture. Currently, 161 countries worldwide, including the United States, condemn and reject torture outright andare parties to the UNConvention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which categorically prohibits torture without any exception whatsoever. This broad-based consensus sends a powerful message that torture is absolutely unjustifiable. As witnessed in the wake of 9/11, abandoning that commitment leads others to do the same. More torture does not make the world a safer place. It puts more lives, including those of our servicemen and servicewomen, at greater risk. Torture also dishonors those who engage in, order, or condone it. We strongly believe in a soldier's deep sense of honor as a barrier to torture.We urge Defense Secretary James Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo to uphold and enforce the ban on torture. The assumption, for argument’s sake, that a person under torture somewhere can on some occasion provide “some” intelligence, does not make torture “justifiable.” Under domestic and international law, information obtained through torture is not admissible in court, precisely because torture is so unreliable and abhorrent. Moreover, those hypothetical handful of cases cannot be considered in a vacuum, either. Under basic principles of sound research, those hypothetical few cases must be considered against the vast majority of cases in which torture led to no – or worse yet, to bad or harmful – intelligence. Basing a vital public policy on a handful of cases of when it purportedly led to “some” intelligence is akin to dispensing a drug that in a handful of cases provided “some” assistance, without considering the vast majority of cases in which the drug provided no – or worse yet,harmful – health effects.

Facts matter. Torture does not “work.” Torture is illegal. Torture is immoral. Torture diminishes all of us. Torture diminishes our humanity, endangers our security and the jeopardizes the safety of our servicemen and servicewomen around the world, and erodes fundamental values of the rule of law. Join us in calling upon all countries to stand up and reject torture.

From the Human Rights Brief

The Human Rights Brief, a student-run publication of the Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law, reports on cutting edge developments in international human rights. The Brief publishes short articles and opinion pieces written by students, academics, and leading human rights practitioners from around the world. Content is run on www.HRBrief.org, the premier website for human rights news, analysis, and resources.


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