"Yes, Torture is Illegal"

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16 January 2009


NY Times Letters Editor

It should not be noteworthy when a professional 'company man' (your editorial 10 January 2009 quoting Leon Panetta: "Not a Company Man") declares that "Torture is illegal..." After all, the US government signed on to the uncompromisable illegality of torture in 1994, when it ratified the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.  Indeed, two years earlier the US's position on this issue was signed, sealed, and delivered, when we ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that ruled out deviation of any sort from the absolute prohibition of torture. 

What has in fact turned out to be noteworthy is that over the years since 9/11, the US head of state took it upon himself to sully the object and purpose of that absolute prohibition by custom-ordering a re-crafted definition of torture. The Convention, including the clear definition of torture, is respected and enforced by 145 other governments. The incoming administration's work-plan on this issue writes itself: reinstall honest compliance with the treaties and laws concerning torture; re-invigorate procedures for assisting survivors; regain our lead position in the internationally-agreed system for ending torture; and by doing so robustly, help restore dignity and honor to the government of the United States of America.




Rita Maran,  Ph.D.,  Lecturer on Human Rights, University of  California, Berkeley

Author: Torture:The Role of Ideology in the French-Algerian War (Praeger 1989)

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