The United States military's policy of force-feeding hunger striking detainees at its Guantanamo Bay detention facility is a violation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and its government should put an end to the practice, asserts a report released Friday by the UN Committee Against Torture.
"The Committee considers that force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike constitutes ill-treatment in violation of the Convention," the report said, noting that these "force feedings are allegedly administered in an unnecessarily brutal and painful manner."
The panel, which reviewed America's human rights record and its compliance with the anti-torture treaty, also urged the US to end the use of military commissions and the policy of indefinite detentions at the camp in Cuba, and called for the declassification of "torture evidence, in particular Guantanamo detainees' accounts of torture."
The 16-page, non-binding report sharply criticized the American government's post-9/11 detention and interrogation policies, and found other instances in which the country has run afoul of the torture treaty's ban on "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
The report did highlight some "positive" policy changes related to American compliance with the convention, including efforts to prevent sexual abuse and rape at US prisons and the convening of a parole board to determine whether certain Guantanamo detainees can be released. But there is much to improve on, the panel said.
In particular, the committee expressed concerns about botched executions, the use of solitary confinement at US prisons, sleep deprivation during interrogations, and reports of brutality and excessive force on the part of law enforcement, notably "against persons belonging to certain racial and ethnic groups, immigrants and LGBTI individuals."
Other concerns included, "racial profiling by police and immigration offices and growing militarization of policing activities." The panel singled out the Chicago Police Department for allegedly profiling, harassing, and using excessive force against African-Americans and Latinos.
"We recommend that all instances of police brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement officers are investigated promptly, effectively and impartially by an independent mechanism," said Alessio Bruni, a member of the UN committee against torture.
The report notes that the US said this month that more than "20 investigations were opened into allegations of systematic police department violations, and over 330 police officers were criminally prosecuted" in the past five years. But the committee said "statistical data on allegations of police brutality" and information about the outcome of those investigations was not made available.
It did not mention the death of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old black teenager gunned down by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, last August. Earlier this month, Brown's parents traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, where they testified before the UN committee and petitioned the panel to recommend Wilson's immediate arrest. A grand jury declined to indict the officer earlier this week.
"This report — along with the voices of Americans protesting around the country this week — is a wake-up call for police who think they can act with impunity," Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Human Rights Program, said according to Reuters. "It's time for systemic policing reforms and effective oversight that make sure law enforcement agencies treat all citizens with equal respect and hold officers accountable when they cross the line."
At the same meeting of the UN panel in Geneva this month, Mary McLeod, the State Department's acting legal adviser, acknowledged that the US "did not always live up to our own values, including those reflected in the [torture] convention" after the 9/11 attacks.
The report's committee expressed "its grave concern over the extraordinary rendition, secret detention and interrogation programme operated by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) between 2001 and 2008, which involved numerous human rights violations, including torture, ill-treatment and enforced disappearance of persons suspected of involvement in terrorism-related crimes."
"As President Obama has acknowledged, we crossed the line and we take responsibility for that," McLeod said in Geneva.
But the committee's report found that the US does not follow through on its rhetoric. So far, the Obama administration has failed to hold anyone accountable for detention and interrogation policies enacted by Bush administration officials, and in many instances has covered up the crimes by protecting or classifying information as "state secrets." The US further violates the torture convention by failing to provide redress to victims of torture, the report said.
"The Committee expresses its serious concern at the use of State secrecy provisions and immunities to evade liability," the report stated. It "is particularly disturbed at reports describing a draconian system of secrecy surrounding high-value detainees that keeps their torture claims out of the public domain."
This is the first time since 2006 that the UN panel has reviewed American compliance with the treaty, which took effect in 1987. The US ratified the treaty in 1994, and is now among 156 countries that have done so.
A spokesman for the White House's National Security Council, Ned Price, told VICE News the administration is "reviewing the Committee's concluding observations."
"We will continue to work with our partners toward the achievement of the Convention's ultimate objective: a world without torture," he said.
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