December 8, 2005
If the administration is serious about banning mistreatment, it should close secret prisons and get rid of waterboards.
Tom Malinowski, Washington director

(New York) – The U.S. Secretary of State's statement yesterday about U.S. obligations under international law does not answer key outstanding questions about the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody, Human Rights Watch said today.

Speaking in Kiev yesterday, Secretary Condoleezza Rice said: “As a matter of U.S. policy, the United States obligations under the CAT [Convention against Torture], which prohibits, of course, cruel and inhumane and degrading treatment, those obligations extend to U.S. personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the United States or outside of the United States.”

Secretary Rice did not respond to specific allegations that detainees have been held illegally in CIA detention facilities in Europe. She also failed to address rising concerns about specific U.S. interrogation techniques and torture practices such as waterboarding, which clearly violate the policy announced today.

“If the administration is serious about banning mistreatment, it should close secret prisons and get rid of waterboards,” said Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch. “If Secretary Rice means what she says, the Bush administration should drop its opposition to Senator John McCain's legislation, pending in the U.S. Congress, which would strengthen the legal prohibition against all cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment against all detainees, worldwide.”

Human Rights Watch urged the Bush administration, and European governments, to cooperate with European inquiries about illegal transfers of detainees and secret prisons, and called on the United States to move “disappeared” persons into known detention facilities, articulate the legal basis under which the detainees are held, and allow access by independent observers.

Human Rights Watch also urged the administration to clarify Secretary Rice's announcement today that the United States is bound by international standards not as mere policy, but as a matter of law.

“The ban against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment has to be more than a `policy,' which can be changed by the president at any time,” said Malinowski. “For months, Senator McCain has been asking for this international ban to be strengthened under U.S. law, and the administration should stop resisting his efforts.”