July 01, 2015

ABA president urges new review of torture allegations

ABA President William C. Hubbard urged the Obama administration last month to undertake a new, comprehensive review of allegations that the United States engaged in illegal and inhumane interrogations following the terrorist attacks of September 2001 and to clarify its interpretation of the extraterritorial application of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

“The ABA remains concerned that the United States has not fulfilled its obligation to ensure full accountability for those alleged to be responsible for conducting and authorizing illegal and inhumane interrogations,” Hubbard wrote June 23 to U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch.

Hubbard acknowledged that the Justice Department took an important step in 2009 when it included a preliminary investigation of allegations of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) mistreatment of detainees at overseas locations as part of an ongoing special criminal investigation of the CIA. The conclusions of the 2009 special investigation and the subsequent decision not to pursue any prosecutions because there was insufficient admissible evidence to secure a conviction have been called into question by extensive documentation collected on the CIA’s interrogation program by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The ABA also is concerned, he said, by questions raised by the U.S. Committee Against Torture about whether a complete and impartial investigation has been conducted.

In light of these developments, Hubbard urged the administration to conduct a new review and accounting of all available evidence and, if warranted, to initiate “appropriate proceedings against any persons who …committed, assisted, authorized, condoned, had command responsibility for, or otherwise participated in such violations.”

In his letter, Hubbard also said the ABA urges the administration to clarify that the Convention Against Torture applies where the United States exercises de jure or de facto control. During November 2014 hearings before the U.N. Committee Against Torture, administration officials stated that the Convention Against Torture applies to conduct outside the United States under certain circumstances.

He also expressed ABA support for an amendment attached by the Senate to H.R. 1735, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016, legislation that is currently in conference. The amendment would require all U.S. government interrogations that occur outside a law enforcement context to abide by the Army Field Manual on Interrogations, which prohibits enhanced interrogation practices. Enactment of the amendment, according to Hubbard, would be a “vital and important step in clarifying U.S. policy and restoring our nation’s reputation as a leader in promoting human rights and the international rule of law.”  

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