Coalition Letter to the Senate re: Government Use of Torture

June 15, 2004
Coalition Letter to the Senate
Regarding Government Use of Torture

MS Word version available here.

June 15, 2004

Dear Senator:

We write to urge you to support Senator Durbin’s amendment to reaffirm the ban on the use of torture by the United States that he intends to offer to S. 2400, the Defense Authorization bill for FY2005. Adoption of this amendment is essential to reasserting America’s moral and legal obligations to respect basic human rights in the midst of the war on terror.

The Durbin torture prohibition amendment reaffirms existing prohibitions on the federal government’s use of torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment under U.S. laws and treaties. For example, the Geneva Conventions; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; The War Crimes Act of 1996; the Uniform Code of Military Justice; and 18 U.S.C. § 2340A (the federal anti-torture statute) all bar the use of torture or inhumane treatment by the U.S. government. The U.S. Senate in providing its advice and consent on the Convention Against Torture in 1990 noted that “cruel, unusual, and inhumane treatment” short of torture was barred by the Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. All of this was implicitly acknowledged by President George W. Bush on June 26th of last year when he stated, “The United States is committed to the world-wide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example.”

Given the above treaties and statutes, and over 50 years of U.S. leadership in ending the use of torture around the world, we deeply regret that the Durbin amendment is necessary. However, press reports of leaked Department of Justice and Department of Defense memos justifying the use of torture, the authorization of special interrogation techniques for the U.S. military and CIA, the Administration’s blanket determination that the Geneva Convention does not apply to certain cases, and the terrible acts which occurred at Abu Ghraib and other military detention facilities demand that the Congress go on record once more on this question. Furthermore, adoption of the Durbin amendment would send a critical message to our allies overseas that the United States will not abandon its traditional commitment to human rights at a time when these actions have called our good faith into question.

Reaffirming the ban on the use of torture by the United States should be above controversy. We urge you to support the Durbin torture prohibition amendment.


American Civil Liberties Union
American Library Association
Amnesty International USA
Arab American Institute
Asian Law Caucus
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Center for American Progress
Center for National Security Studies
Center for Democracy and Technology
Church Women United
Council on American-Islamic Relations
Fairfax County Privacy Council
Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quaker)
Illinois Commission for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project
Immigration Project
Legal Momentum
Libertarian Party
The Multiracial Activist
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
National Black Police Association
National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce
National Organization for Women
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays
People For the American Way
PRIME – Ecumenical Commitment to Refugees
The Sikh Coalition
The Society of American Law Teachers
The Rutherford Institute
World Organization for Human Rights USA

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