U.S. officials are in for a serious grilling on Wednesday as they get hauled before the U.N. Committee against Torture and questioned about about a multitude of ways in which the U.S. appears to be failing to comply with the anti-torture treaty it ratified 20 years ago.
As Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU Human Rights Program noted on Monday:
This marks the first U.N. review of the United States’ torture record since President Obama took office in 2009, and much is at stake. The review will test the pledges President Obama made to reverse disastrous Bush-era policies that led to gross violations of human rights, like torture, secret and incommunicado detention, “extraordinary renditions,” unfair trials, and more. It is also likely to examine practices that emerged or became entrenched during Obama’s time in office, such as indefinite detention at Guantánamo, immigration detention and deportations, and the militarization of the police, as witnessed by the world during this summer’s events in Ferguson.
The ACLU’s “shadow report” to the committee is a profoundly grim indictment of the nation’s failure to live up to its principles.
And although Obama claims to oppose torture, the New York Times recently reported that he could well fail another key test of his sincerity by reaffirming the Bush administration’s position that the international Convention Against Torture imposes no legal obligation on the U.S. to bar cruelty outside its borders.
U.S. non-governmental agencies were allowed to address the U.N. committee today, and Murat Kurnaz (pictured above), who was tortured and detained by the U.S. at Kandahar and then Guantanamo over a period of five years, traveled to Geneva with his attorney, Center for Constitutional Rights Legal Director Baher Azmy. He made the following statement:
Good afternoon. My name is Murat Kurnaz. I am a Turkish citizen who was born and raised in Bremen, Germany, where I currently live. I spent five years of my life in detention in Kandahar and Guantanamo Bay from 2001-2006.
My story is like many others. In 2001, while traveling in Pakistan, I was arrested by Pakistani police and sold to the U.S. military for a $3,000 bounty. In Kandahar, the U.S. military subjected me to electric shocks, stress positions, simulated drowning, and endless beatings. In Guantanamo, there was also psychological torture—I was stripped of my humanity, treated like an animal, isolated from the rest of the world, and did not know if I would ever be released.
Even though my lawyers proved that the U.S. knew of my innocence by 2002, I was not released until 2006. I lost five years of my life in Guantanamo.
Eight years later, I cannot believe that Guantanamo is still open and that there are almost 150 men detained there indefinitely. My time in Guantanamo was a nightmare, but I sometimes consider myself lucky. I know that part of the reason I am free today is because I am from Germany.
Most of the current prisoners remain in Guantanamo because they are from Yemen and the U.S. refuses to send them home. Many are as innocent as I was. But they are enduring the torture of Guantanamo for over 12 years because of their nationality, not because of anything they have done.
I understand that international human rights laws like the Convention Against Torture were created so that the people who commit torture are punished. Isn’t that how we can end torture in the world? So why has no U.S. official been held responsible for brutal practices and torture at Guantanamo or other U.S. prisons?
I will never get five years of my life back, but for me and others, it is important that the Committee confronts the United States about its actions in Guantanamo and other prisons.
The committee’s proceedings are being livestreamed here. The questioning of the U.S. delegation begins as 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Geneva time — 4 a.m. ET.
Photo: David Hecker/DAPD