Press Release

IACHR Calls on the United States to Investigate and Punish Acts of Torture Established in the Senate Intelligence Committee Report

December 12, 2014

Washington, D.C. – On October 9, 2014, the United States Senate Intelligence Committee issued a report on the program carried out by that country’s Central Intelligence Agency to detain and interrogate persons suspected of terrorist acts after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairperson Dianne Feinstein issued a statement in which she expresses that “CIA personnel, aided by two outside contractors, decided to initiate a program of indefinite secret detention and the use of brutal interrogation in violation of U.S. law, treaty obligations and our values.”

According to the report, the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” included waterboarding, slaps, slamming detainees against a wall, sleep deprivation and nudity.  Detainees were also subjected to rectal feeding without documented medical necessity, ice baths, death threats to the detainees and threats to kill or sexually assault their family members.  The report also refers to the effects of such treatment on the detainees, which included “hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and attempts at self harm and self mutilation”.  Based on the “overwhelming and incontrovertible” evidence in the report, Senator Feinstein also concluded that “under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured;” and that the conditions of confinement and interrogation techniques were “cruel, inhuman and degrading.”

U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement in which he expressed hope that the Senate report “can help us leave these techniques where they belong—in the past” and that it is “also a reminder that upholding the values we profess doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us stronger.”

The Inter-American Commission has specified that an essential aspect of the right to personal integrity is the absolute prohibition of torture, a peremptory norm of international law creating erga omnes obligations. It has also qualified the universal prohibition of torture as a norm of jus cogens. According to principles of international law, the right to humane treatment cannot be suspended under any circumstance.  International law establishes its non‐derogable nature in time of war, public danger or other emergency that threatens the independence or security of the State, without any exceptions. The Commission has considered that this peremptory prohibition of all forms of torture is the corollary of the duty of the State to treat every person deprived of liberty humanely and with respect for his or her dignity. 

On reiterated occasions, the IACHR has called for the reports of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of detainees at the Guantánamo detention facility to be investigated, and for the facility to be closed.  On March 12, 2002, approximately two months after the United States began to transfer detainees to Guantánamo, the IACHR granted precautionary measures and asked the Government to adopt the necessary urgent measures so that a competent court could determine the legal status of the detainees. On October 28, 2005, the Commission expanded the precautionary measures and asked the United States to conduct an in-depth and impartial investigation into all allegations of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, and to prosecute and punish those responsible. In addition, on July 28, 2006, the IACHR approved Resolution No. 2/06, urging the United States to close the Guantánamo detention facility without delay; to transfer the detainees in full compliance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law; and to take the necessary measures to ensure detainees a fair and transparent judicial process before a competent, independent, and impartial decision-maker. This request was reiterated in 2011 and 2013.

In its concluding observations on the third to fifth periodic reports of United States of America adopted 20 November 2014, the United Nations Committee against Torture expressed its grave concern over the extraordinary rendition, secret detention and interrogation program operated by the U.S. 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.

On the occasion of the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee Report, the Inter-American Commission reiterates its calls on the United States to carry out a full investigation in order to clarify the facts, and prosecute and punish all persons within its jurisdiction responsible for acts of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and to provide integral reparations to the victims, including restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and measures of non-repetition, pursuant to international standards. In this regard, it must be noted that the lack of punishment encourages practices that erode respect for integrity and human dignity.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 152/14