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The United States, Robert Gibbs and Torture

Does this bother anyone? Jonathan Turley posts:

With Dick Cheney boasting on national television of his support for waterboarding and torture (here), the Obama White House is continuing its policy of ignoring the credible claims of war crimes to avoid the politically difficult decision to prosecute Bush, Cheney and others for the U.S. torture program. This was evident this week when White House spokesman Robert Gibbs refused to answer a basic question on the torture of a recently captured Taliban leader– offering only to discuss the matter off the record.
Just a couple days after the Cheney interview, it was made public that the Administration had captured Mullah Abduh Ghani Baradar. The question was whether the Administration would use waterboarding though its allies:

CHIP REID: Back on the topic of waterboarding and torture. The president having, as you said, outlawed waterboarding, what is the responsibility of his administration to make sure that this latest alleged captive from the Afghan Taliban is not waterboarded or tortured? Is it — is it the president’s and the administration’s responsibility, not talking about him in particular but is it their responsibility to make sure waterboarding doesn’t happen by Pakistan security forces.

ROBERT GIBBS: I, Chip, I for a number of reasons, as I said, I’m just not going to get into the details surrounding any of these events right now.
REID: It is a question of policy, not a question of this particular case.
GIBBS: And I’ll be happy to talk about it off camera.

.  .  .

Reid was correct. This should be an easy question of policy. It is the very crux of the controversy over extraordinary renditions and the use of allies to torture suspects. The United States neither tortures nor hands over suspects to others for torture. It should be a policy that is stated openly and clearly. Yet, Gibbs was clearly unwilling or uncomfortable in making such assurances.

Instead, the Administration’s blocking of any prosecution has reinforced the view of many that waterboarding is not unlawful and clearly emboldened people like Cheney. Now, we have leading columnists arguing not only for the torture of detainees but their wives and children. It is an example of the slippery slope of torture — once you accept torture, there are no limitations in the absence of principle.

I hope Gibbs goes on the record and reiterates our obligation not to turn any person over to a state that is likely to torture.  As will be recalled, Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture states:

1. No State Party shall expel, return (“refouler”) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

2. For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.

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Welcome! Who am I?

Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.