Michael Muskal / The Los Angeles Times & Ed Pilkington / The Guardian – 2014-11-29 00:08:17
UN Committee Against Torture Condemns US
For Police Killings, Gitmo Detentions, Death Penalty
Michael Muskal / The Los Angeles Times
NEW YORK (November 28, 2014) — A United Nations panel on Friday sharply criticized how the United States handles a variety of criminal justice-related issues, such as the police shooting of unarmed African Americans, the imprisonment of terror detainees at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and the application of the death penalty.
In a 16-page report, its first such review since 2006, the UN Committee Against Torture condemned US policies in handling how police dealt with issues of brutality against blacks and Latinos. It did not specifically mention events in Ferguson, Mo., but the parents of Michael Brown, fatally shot by a white police officer, spoke to the commission before the findings were released.
[Note: Committee Against Torture Report on US: Link to document here.]
The panel was told by the US delegation that 20 investigations had been opened by the US Justice Department since 2009 into systematic police abuses against minorities and that more than 330 police officers had been prosecuted for brutality.
The Justice Department is conducting a similar probe in Ferguson. It is also investigating whether to charge Wilson with violating federal civil rights law.
In comments after the grand jury decision was announced on Monday, President Obama acknowledged that there were problems in the relations between police and minority communities.
“The fact is, in too many parts of this country, a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color,” the president said at the White House. “Some of this is the result of the legacy of racial discrimination in this country. And this is tragic, because nobody needs good policing more than poor communities with higher crime rates.”
“There are numerous areas in which certain things should be changed for the United States to comply fully with the convention,” Alessio Bruni of Italy, one of the panel’s chief investigators, said at a news conference in Geneva. He was referring to the UN Convention Against Torture, which took effect in 1987 and the United States ratified in 1994.
The committee’s 10 independent experts review the records of United Nations members and issue recommendations, which are non-binding.
Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson shot Brown on Aug. 9, touching off weeks of often violent protests. A St. Louis County grand jury decided this week not to indict Wilson, and information was released that portrayed Brown as the aggressor in the incident. The announcement of the grand jury’s decision was met with looting, arson and arrests in Ferguson and with more peaceful demonstrations around the nation.
In all, hundreds of arrests have been made from New York to Los Angeles and throughout the St. Louis region, though the level of protest has decreased in recent days.
Brown’s parents, Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr., met with the committee in Geneva earlier this month and argued that their son was a victim of police brutality and that his death and other forms of police brutality were a violation of the UN treaty.
The next day in Chicago, the president said he has asked outgoing Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. to “identify specific steps we can take together to set up a series of regional meetings focused on building trust in our communities. And next week, we’ll bring together state and local officials, and law enforcement, and community leaders and faith leaders to start identifying very specific steps that we can take to make sure that law enforcement is fair and is being applied equally to every person in this country.”
The UN report also criticized the US record on military interrogations, maximum-security prisons, solitary confinement and migrants residing in the country illegally.
The report also called for tougher federal laws to define and outlaw torture, including how detainees are treated in Guantanamo Bay.
About 148 inmates are held at the base in Cuba, where the US practices a form of incarceration the report described as “a draconian system of secrecy surrounding high-value detainees that keeps their torture claims out of the public domain.”
Nine inmates have died, including seven by suicide, since 2006, the report added.
Obama has called for closing the Guantanamo Bay facility and bringing the inmates to face trial in the United States, moves that have been opposed by Congress. Since the first detainees arrived in 2002, there have been reports that inmates have been tortured during interrogation. Officials have been force-feeding inmates who have been on a hunger strike since last year to protest their imprisonment.
The UN committee also criticized a series of executions in the United States in which it took a long time for inmates to die, and they appeared to be suffering because of the quality of drugs used and how they were administered.
UN Torture Report Condemns Sleep
Deprivation among US Detainees
Ed Pilkington / The Guardian
NEW YORK (November 28, 2014) — The US military has retained the power to inflict prolonged sleep deprivation on detainees, despite moves by the Obama administration to eliminate interrogation techniques that amount to torture and ill-treatment, the United Nations warned on Friday.
In a review of the human rights record of the US, the first of its kind since 2006, the world body’s committee against torture has slammed the country for its ongoing violations of international treaties. The review’s many complaints address indefinite detention without trial; force-feeding of Guantanamo prisoners; the holding of asylum seekers in prison-like facilities; widespread use of solitary confinement; excessive use of force and brutality by police; shootings of unarmed black individuals; and cruel and inhumane executions.
The committee’s conclusions, released in Geneva on Friday, praise President Barack Obama for having banned excessive interrogation techniques such as waterboarding that were widely used under the previous Bush administration in the wake of 9/11. But it cautions that one important method that was central to Bush’s so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” — sleep deprivation — continues to be approved for use.
The authorisation of the method is contained in an appendix of the Army Field Manual called Human Intelligence Collector Operations. Appendix M allows military interrogators to practice what is known as “physical separation” of detainees to prevent them communicating with each other and, by so doing, sharing information that would help them resist questioning.
Under Appendix M, interrogators are told to avoid exposing detainees to several of the most popular forms of abuse practiced during the Bush years, such as deafening noises, freezing cells or incessant light. However, the rulebook goes on to give permission for detainees to be kept awake for up to 20 hours a day. It says: “Use of separation must not preclude the detainee getting four hours of continuous sleep every 24 hours.”
The provision has set alarm bells ringing at the UN’s committee against torture. The body points out that the rule can be applied against a detainee for an initial period of 30 days that can then be renewed; the measure amounts to “authorising sleep deprivation — a form of ill-treatment”.
The committee calls on the US immediately to abolish the provision. The recommendation is just one of a slew of complaints and demands that the world body makes in its review of the US track record on torture.
Many of the harshest criticisms are reserved for the Bush administration’s excesses between 2001 and 2009. But the committee is critical of how the current US government has failed, in its view, to clean up the mess that was created in the wake of 9/11.
In particular, it wants to see the US acknowledge torture as a specific criminal offence at the federal level, thereby removing possible loopholes in the law. It also urges the US Senate select committee on intelligence to publish as quickly as possible its report into the CIA’s historic detention and interrogation programme that has been caught up in political wrangling for months.
Jamil Dakwar of the American Civil Liberties Union commended the UN panel for its insistence that the Obama administration matches its rhetoric with action by supporting full accountability for torture.
“As a start, that means allowing the release of the Senate’s torture report summary without redactions that would defeat report’s primary purpose, which is to expose the full extent of government abuse. It also means ensuring a top-to-bottom criminal investigation of the torture that occurred.”
As protests against the shooting of the unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, continue to sweep the country, the UN criticizes the growing militarization of policing activities and expresses “deep concern” over “frequent and recurrent police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals”.
Though it does not mention Ferguson or Darren Wilson, the police officer who this week was spared charges for killing Brown, it does note the “difficulties to hold police officers and their employers accountable for abuses.”
The committee also condemns 4,000 deaths of inmates in prisons and jails each year, particularly those caused by “extreme heat exposure while imprisoned in unbearably hot and poor ventilated prison facilities” in states such as Arizona and California.
It states that the widespread detention of super-maximum security prisoners in total isolation for up to 23 hours a day is unacceptable and laments recent executions of death row inmates that caused “excruciating pain and prolonged suffering.”
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