After CIA torture revelations, US must now recover moral high ground – UN expert

Mr. Juan Mendez, Special Rapporteur on Torture, Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

11 December 2014 – The United States' use of torture when interrogating prisoners captured in its “War on Terror” has damaged the country's moral high ground and created a set-back in the global fight against the condemnable practice, a United Nations human rights expert has declared.

“The example set by the United States on the use of torture has been a big draw-back in the fight against such practice in many other countries throughout the world,” Juan Mendez, the UN's Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, said in a news release today.

As a Special Rapporteur with a mandate to visit numerous countries across the globe, he added that now Member States were either implicitly or explicitly telling him “Why look at us? If the US tortures, why can't we do it?”

“We have lost a little bit of the moral high ground,” he continued. “But it can be regained and it should be regained.”

Mr. Mendez's comments follow the long-awaited release of the US Senate Intelligence Committee's report on CIA interrogation techniques which concluded that US high officials promoted, encouraged and allowed the use of torture after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and during President George W. Bush's administration. The practice, known as “enhanced interrogation techniques,” was terminated by President Barack Obama.

The Special Rapporteur commended the “thorough and frank” report, particularly as it managed to break through a wall of silence put into place by the former administration which, he said, had “aggressively and repeatedly rejected the principles of transparency and accountability and maintains the pattern of denial and defense.”

“It is the Government's responsibility to let the US people know what happened during the years when extraordinary rendition, secret detention, and so-called enhanced interrogation techniques were practiced, and to ensure accountability and transparency to the fullest extent possible.”

Mr. Mendez noted that despite the United States' continued use of torture in interrogating prisoners suspected of affiliations with terrorist groups, the practice was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees. Instead, he added, the torture programmes had made the matter of terrorism worse and provided “a breeding ground for more terrorism.”

“As a nation that has publicly affirmed its belief that respect for truth advances respect for the rule of law, and as a nation that frequently calls for transparency and accountability in other countries, the United States must rise to meet the standards it has set both for itself and for others.”

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