On Aug. 1, President Barack Obama stated in an oddly casual manner that “we tortured some folks.” As Obama is well aware, torture is a violation of international law. It is prohibited by the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 8 June 1977, the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Torture Convention), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), all of which have been signed and ratified by the United States.
Further, although the ICCPR allows for some derogation from some of its requirements under extraordinary circumstances, torture is an act that is never permitted.
The Torture Convention not only prohibits torture, it also requires that those who plan, authorize and perpetrate the crime be fairly and competently prosecuted. Failure to turn suspects over to be prosecuted before an appropriate body, such as the International Criminal Court, is itself a violation of the Torture Convention. As we know, Obama chose to “look forward, not backwards” rather than meet the United States’ legal obligations.
Despite Obama’s decision to block any form of accountability for Bush administration officials for their role in torturing individuals, his administration has been a staunch supporter of international justice for other countries. When she was secretary of state, Hillary Clinton stated that the U.S. would end its “hostility toward the ICC, and look for opportunities to encourage effective ICC action in ways that promote U.S. interests by bringing war criminals to justice.”