Thursday, December 11, 2014

GateHouse: UN takes a swipe at torture in America

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
December 10, 2014

This week, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the results of a five-year investigation of CIA interrogation methods used on terrorism suspects after the 9/11 attacks.

According to USA Today, the investigation concluded that the interrogations were more brutal than the CIA had previously admitted. Committee chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein said in some cases, the conduct amounted to “torture.”

With a “little” less fanfare, the United Nations Commission Against Torture recently released a report on the United States’ involvement in questionable conduct that the Senate Intelligence Committee seemed to confirm.

Not surprisingly, the report referenced the use of extraordinary rendition, enhanced interrogation techniques, overseas torture and issues relating to the detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

A closer look at the U.N. report reveals some concern about issues closer to home. The 15-page report released by the Committee Against Torture suggests a link between torture and U.S. policies regarding the death penalty, juvenile life without parole, excessive use of force by police and solitary confinement.

Regarding the issue of solitary confinement the U.N. raised concerns about extensive use of solitary confinement and other forms of isolation in U.S. prisons “for purposes of punishment, discipline and protection, as well as for health-related reasons.”

Although the U.N. did not recommend the complete abolition of solitary confinement the report did recommended only using “solitary confinement as a measure of last resort, for a (sic) short time as possible, under strict supervision.”

A new report from the University of North Carolina School of Law suggests that long-term solitary confinement is a cruel, inhumane and degrading form of punishment. The report, “Solitary Confinement as Torture,” contends that solitary confinement as a form of punishment is “beyond the bounds of human decency.”

Next, the U.N. took up the issue of juvenile life without parole. The U.N. applauded the U.S. Supreme Court decisions eliminating life for juveniles convicted of non-homicide offenses and a more recent decision abolishing mandatory life without parole for juveniles.

The report expressed dismay regarding a half-dozen states that have ruled that the latter decision does “not apply retroactively, and that a majority of the 28 states that required mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for children have not passed legislation” to prohibit the practice.

Beyond those concerns, the U.N. has called on the U.S. to “abolish the sentence of life imprisonment without parole for offences committed by children under 18 years of age,” regardless of the crime.

With the police-related deaths of Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York, the U.N. committee made a broad statement concerning “the frequent and recurrent police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals.”

Earlier this year, USA Today reported that nearly two times a week in the United States, a white police officer killed a black person during a seven-year period ending in 2012. The data was from the most recent accounts of justifiable homicide reported to the FBI. On average, there were 96 such incidents among at least 400 police killings each year that were reported to the FBI by local police.

The U.N. recommended that “police brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement officers are investigated promptly, effectively and impartially by an independent mechanism.
Finally, the U.N. committee recommended the abolition of the death penalty. The U.N. suggested that the death penalty is torture, because it inherently includes “the threat of imminent death.” The committee also condemned lethal injection as cruel and unusual punishment.

The U.S. Supreme Court disagrees on the death penalty, and has consistently made rulings contrary to the position of the U.N. on domestic issues of punishment and accountability.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George. His recent book, “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010,” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.

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