In his State of the Union address, President Bush described with appropriate horror some of the torture techniques reportedly used by Saddam Hussein's government: electric shock, burning with hot irons, dripping acid on the skin, mutilation with electric drills, cutting out tongues, and rape. He rightly said that "if this is not evil, then evil has no meaning."
Yet what message is sent to the world when the President of the United States condemns torture by Iraq, while unnamed officials of his administration defend, and even gloat about, the use of torture against detainees held, or once held, by the United States? What message is sent when the Department of State urges Middle Eastern and North African countries to end this brutal and unlawful practice, while the United States renders suspects to the very same countries so that, as stated by U.S. officials to the Post, they can be interrogated by the very same methods?
One official told the Post that "after 9/11, the gloves came off." Another said: "We don't kick the [expletive] out of [detainees]. We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of them." Perhaps this is not true, or, perhaps steps have been taken to correct the problem. But since the article appeared, neither the President nor any senior figure in the administration has contradicted any of the statements made to the Post, or announced any corrective measures.
As a result, whatever the truth of the matter, much of the world now believes that the United States is torturing or severely mistreating detainees, or least taking advantage of torture by others. Indeed, in our work around the world, Human Rights Watch has encountered many government officials and ordinary citizens who are now convinced that the United States is employing an interrogation method widely condemned as illegal, immoral, and utterly unreliable for obtaining truthful information from detainees.
Until this perception is changed, your presentation to the Security Council - to the extent that it relies on detainee interrogations - will not inspire the confidence and trust you are seeking. Nor will America have the credibility we want it to have to denounce torture in Iraq, North Korea, and elsewhere.
We urge you, if you present information to the Security Council derived from detainees, to clarify explicitly whether torture or other mistreatment was used in their interrogation. We also urge you to prevail upon President Bush, as we have requested of him, to make clear without further delay that no matter what the circumstances, torture and mistreatment of detainees is anathema to the United States, that any U.S. official guilty of such practices will be held accountable, that the U.S. has no interest in intelligence obtained through torture and other internationally condemned techniques, and that it will not render detainees to countries where they are likely to receive such treatment. We hope you will understand the stake the United States has in making such a declaration, and the damage that will be done if it continues to remain silent.