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In response to President Trump: Torture is absolutely prohibited and it does not “work”!

On 26 January, the newly elected President of the United States, Donald Trump, stated in his first TV interview that he would agree to allow waterboarding and possibly other measures considered torture in the fight against terrorism. When asked whether torture works he responded “absolutely it works”, referring to a supposed assessment of intelligence officials. Trump states that “we have to fight fire with fire” and do “everything within the bounds of what you’re allowed to do legally”.

Torture and ill-treatment are absolutely prohibited

Torture is not within the bounds of what you are allowed to do legally. Torture and ill-treatment are absolutely prohibited by international law as codified in international treaties (e.g. art. 7 ICCPR, 3 ECHR, 5 ACHR, 5 ACHPR) and recognized as customary international law. This clear legal prohibition is based on the strong belief in the indispensable and inalienable principle of human dignity, the encompassing source of all human rights. The UN Convention against Torture states “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” (art. 2, para. 2 CAT).  The so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by US authorities during the Bush administration, including methods involving sexual humiliation, “waterboarding”, “short shackling” and using dogs to induce fear, are considered as torture or other forms of ill-treatment by international human rights bodies such as the UN Committee against Torture and  the European Court of Human Rights that have called for the abolishment of such practices.

Torture does not work

Furthermore, torture does not work. The US Senate Report published in 2014 and representing the most comprehensive and authoritative investigation of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program concluded: “The CIA's use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees.” This has been repeated many times, most recently in a letter by a group of 176 retired military officers stating that torture is “unnecessary” and “counterproductive”. A recent publication entitled “Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation” provides the scientific and evidence based explanation as to why torture does not work.

For these reasons it is to be hoped that President Trump’s Defense Secretary James Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo – on whom he claimed to “rely” on in this matter – will be guided by international law and reason ensuring that the legalization of torture will never happen again.

The team Human Dignity and Public Security at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights contributes to the prevention of torture and ill-treatment through research, consulting and training. Currently it is inter alia working on the most comprehensive publication interpreting the prohibition and prevention of torture and ill-treatment by drafting the second edition of the Commentary to the UN Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol. For further activities of the team see http://bim.lbg.ac.at/en/human-dignity-and-public-security