Freedom House Urges President Bush to Bring U.S. Policies on Interrogation and Detention into Compliance with U.S. and International Law

Washington, D.C.

Members of the Board of Trustees of Freedom House today sent a letter to President Bush urging him to bring U.S. policies on interrogation and detention into compliance with U.S. and international law.  A copy of the letter is below.

June 28, 2006

The President
The White House
Washington, D.C.  20500

Dear Mr. President:

It is the mission of Freedom House to champion the expansion of freedom around the world and we support a vigorous U.S. policy to support that expansion.  We have applauded your personal commitment to the spread of freedom around the world, and the steps your Administration has taken to make the promotion of freedom a priority in U.S. foreign policy. 

Freedom House is well aware of the current security challenges that face the U.S. and other democracies around the world.  The enemy our government is fighting against is willing to violate all international norms and laws and has repeatedly engaged in inexcusable brutality against innocents.  While Freedom House supports strong military and intelligence capabilities to respond to such threats, we also believe that the conflict must simultaneously be won on the political and ideological fronts.      

We are writing because we believe that the continuation of current U.S. policies and practices related to interrogation and detention have directly undermined the success of those efforts.  This past Monday was the International Day for Victims of Torture, a day in which the international community should recommit itself to assist victims of torture around the world.  While Freedom House has documented the extraordinary expansion of freedom over the last three decades, we remain concerned about the millions of people around the world who do not enjoy fundamental freedoms.  Countries around the world continue the practice of torture and physical abuse.  The U.S. has been - and should be - the international leader in combating those practices.  To continue to do so effectively, the U.S. must lead by example.  Sadly, that example has been tarnished in the last several years.   

After the dismaying actions of Abu Ghraib came to light, the Board of Trustees of Freedom House wrote to you in May 2004 urging immediate action to prevent any further mistreatment of detainees, including changes in policies and procedures.  A number of armed services personnel involved in those abuses have been prosecuted or disciplined, but we remain concerned that your Administration has yet to adopt the clear and unambiguous policies needed to prevent the recurrence of future abuses.  There are three main areas of concern that need to be addressed:

First, the Administration must fully adhere to our domestic and international legal obligations related to interrogations.  The U.S. should not quibble about the scope or domain of particular treaties, while losing sight of the compelling moral standards embodied in those treaties.  The fact that our adversaries are lawless does not justify our being so. 

Specifically, the U.S. government must abide by all applicable provisions of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, including common article 3, and the United Nations Convention Against Torture, and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, as recently reaffirmed by the enactment of the McCain Amendment.  We are concerned that your Administration has not yet adopted nor implemented a clear, unambiguous policy that prohibits any interrogation techniques not in compliance with these and other binding international legal standards.  These legal standards specifically ban not only torture but also "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" and "outrages upon personal dignity; in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment."  They also require that states be held accountable to victims of torture and that such victims be given a right to redress.  With respect to strict adherence to the McCain Amendment we also note that the Congress of the United States is given power in Article I § 8 of the Constitution "[t]o . . . make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water," and "[t]o make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the Land and Naval Forces."

Second, the U.S. should not engage in the rendition of detainees to governments which have a known practice of torture and abuse.  Any renditions should be conducted with full diplomatic assurances and monitoring and oversight mechanisms to ensure mistreatment does not occur.  We note that the UN special rapporteur has recently called upon European states to contribute to the effort. 

Finally, the United States must take steps to end indefinite detention and to implement the requirements of due process as defined by U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions. 

Mr. President, for your vision of ending tyranny around the world to be realized, your Administration has to lead by example, and take actions that convincingly demonstrate America's commitment to the highest standard of conduct in accordance with the rule of law and democratic policy and practice.  We urge you to take steps immediately to bring U.S. policy into alignment with the noble principles you have so strongly articulated.


Peter Ackerman

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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