A group of organizations are calling on the U.S. House of Representatives to drop a provision in H.R. 10, the 9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act of 2004, that would authorize the outsourcing of torture to brutal dictatorships like Syria, Saudi Arabia, and China. This provision would violate the legal prohibition against sending people to countries where they are at risk of torture. It also directly contradicts the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.
Section 3032 of H.R. 10, the 9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act of 2004, would make it official U.S. policy to send or return individuals to countries where they would be at grave risk of torture. This provision would violate U.S. law and policy, and it is completely inconsistent with decades of efforts by Republicans and Democrats alike to make America a world leader in the fight against torture and for human rights. Far from implementing the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations, it directly contradicts the Commission’s counsel that the United States should “offer an example of moral leadership in the world, committed to treat people humanely, [and] abide by the rule of law.”
The legal prohibition on torture is absolute. Along with 135 other countries that have ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the United States has committed itself to upholding this fundamental principle of human dignity. Just as governments cannot engage in torture directly, they cannot send people to places where they risk being tortured. The Convention against Torture states that “no State Party shall expel, return (‘refouler’) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.”
Congress reiterated its commitment to upholding this obligation in 1998 when it passed section 2242 of the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act, stating that “[i]t shall be the policy of the United States not to expel, extradite, or otherwise effect the involuntary return of any person to a country in which there are substantial grounds for believing the person would be in danger of being subjected to torture, regardless of whether the person is physically present in the United States.” Section 3032 of H.R. 10 would violate that legal and moral obligation by permitting the U.S. government to turn over people to other countries even if it is 100 percent certain they will be tortured. This will have immediate and damaging consequences.
For example, the government of China has been demanding that the United States turn over to it a number of ethnic Uighur detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Because it believes the detainees would likely be tortured, the Bush Administration has rightly refused and is instead seeking other countries to accept them. If Congress were to approve this provision, there would be no legal bar to sending these detainees back to torture.
By contrast, in 2002 the U.S. government sent a transiting Canadian-Syrian national, Maher Arar, to Syria despite its systematic use of torture. Now safely back in Canada, Arar alleges he was severely tortured, including beatings with electrical cords, during his ten months in a Syrian prison. Such incidents undermine the credibility of U.S. efforts to promote human rights and democracy in the Arab world, which President Bush has identified as a key element in the Administration’s long-term strategy to combat terrorism. If this provision is passed, such incidents will become more common, dealing a profound blow to America’s moral authority in pursuing a vital goal.
In the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal, President Bush and Congress have gone to great pains to persuade the world that U.S. policy does not condone torture. If Congress enacts this legislation, it would make tolerance of torture official U.S. policy. We urge you to strike this provision from the bill and to reaffirm America’s commitment to a world without torture.
Amnesty International USA
Douglas A. Johnson
The Center for Victims of Torture
Human Rights First
Human Rights Watch
International League for Human Rights
Ralston H. Deffenbaugh, Jr.
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services
Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights
Physicians for Human Rights
RFK Memorial Center for Human Rights
R. Timothy Ziemer, Rear Admiral USN (Ret.)