Banning Torture | The Center for Victims of Torture

Banning Torture

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Only John Oliver would enlist the elocutionary skills of an Academy Award-winning actor to compel people to read the U.S. Senate’s Report on CIA Torture, but even as it is narrated in Dame Helen Mirren’s soothing voice, the torture carried out by the CIA against its detainees during its cruel interrogation program, is still horrifying. On Last Week Tonight, John Oliver brought to a mainstream audience what professional interrogators, terror experts, rehabilitation experts, and survivors of torture all already know: the tale of torture’s effectiveness is “one of those movie tropes that’s got no basis in real life.”

Having rebuilt the lives and restored the hope of more than 33,000 torture survivors worldwide since its founding in 1985, CVT knows that the victim will “say anything to make the torture stop,” including making false statements. Our clients who have been tortured are often swept up in generalized violence and have no information to provide their interrogators. Because they believe that any confession will stop the mistreatment, they often tell the interrogators what they want to hear, including false confessions

Until September 11, 2001, politicians across the political spectrum understood that torture was immoral and counter-productive. Opposition to torture was a bipartisan issue that enjoyed broad consensus, with President Reagan signing the Convention Against Torture, President George H.W. Bush pushing it through a bipartisan Senate, and President Clinton signing anti-torture legislation into law. Senate Republicans were eager to “demonstrate the abhorrence of our Nation toward torture.”

That abhorrence resurfaced when the details of the CIA’s post-9/11 detention and interrogation program came to light. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have now joined together to reclaim that bipartisanship and ensure that the U.S. government can never again resort to an unlawful interrogation program that was immoral and did more harm for U.S. credibility and national security than good. The legislation they introduced last week along with Senators Reed (D-RI), Collins (R-ME), and Flake (R-AZ), applies a uniform standard of evidence-based, humane interrogation techniques across all U.S. agencies and requires the U.S. government to provide the International Committee of the Red Cross with prompt access to all law of war detainees. These changes will effectively be the end of “black sites.”

The legislation continues an effort started by Senator McCain, himself a torture survivor who knows its brutality and immorality. In 2005 he led a bipartisan effort to pass the Detainee Treatment Act in the Senate by an overwhelming 90-9 margin. He reminded colleagues that the ban against torture is a reflection on us, stating that “we can’t let prisoner abuse tarnish our image.”

Strengthening the U.S. ban on torture is necessary to ensure that neither the CIA nor any other U.S. agency will ever again employ an illegal, unwise and inhumane interrogation program. Accountability and redress are still necessary to address the legacy of United States’ post-9/11 torture, but the legislation is an important first step toward that end.


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