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PROCEEDINGS AND DEBATES OF THE 110th CONGRESS, 1st SESSION

Vol. 153 Washington, Friday, October 12, 2007 No. 53

House of Representatives


TORTURE POLICIES UNDERCUT U.S. LEADERSHIP ON HUMAN RIGHTS, DEMOCRACY, AND THE RULE OF LAW



HON. ALCEE L. HASTINGS

OF FLORIDA

Friday, October 12, 2007


Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. Madam Speaker, as Chairman of the Commission
on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I would like to draw the
attention of my colleagues to two events last week that, taken
together, illustrate the damaging effect that this administration's
policies have had on America's credibility as a global leader on human
rights, democracy and the rule of law.
First of all, on Friday, the 56 OSCE participating States concluded
their annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, Poland.
This meeting is Europe's largest regional human rights forum where
governments and nongovernmental organizations gather to take stock of
how countries are implementing the commitments they have undertaken in
the Helsinki process relating to human rights and democracy. As such,
this meeting provides an important opportunity for the United States to
raise and express concern about serious instances of noncompliance and
negative trends in the expansive OSCE region stretching from Vancouver
to Vladivostok.
Separately, on Thursday of last week--just as the Warsaw meeting was
drawing to a close--the New York Times ran an article revealing the
existence of two classified legal memos authorizing the use of
interrogation techniques that, to many reasonable minds, rise to the
level of torture, or at least cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or
punishment--both categories of treatment prohibited under the United
Nations Convention Against Torture, to which the United States is a
party. These memos have already been dubbed by some as ``torture memo
2.0'' and ``torture memo 3.0,'' and were reportedly authored by Steven
G. Bradbury, who has headed the Department of Justice's Office of Legal
Counsel since 2005.
Madam Speaker, 3 years ago the world was shocked--and the United
States was shamed--by pictures showing detainees standing on boxes with
hoods over their heads and electrical wires attached to their fingers.
But perhaps even more shocking and more shameful was the surfacing of
the so-called ``torture memo,'' adopted by the Department of Justice in
2002 and leaked to the public in 2004. The very existence of such a
memo was rightly and widely understood to mean that abuses did not just
occur by rogue elements or as an aberration, but stemmed from a
government policy to effectively authorize the use of torture and
cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The 2002 memo was
so scandalous that shortly after it was leaked, it was disavowed by the
Department of Justice itself.
For many people, the existence of ``torture memo 2.0'' and ``torture
memo 3.0'' will not come as a surprise but rather as a confirmation of
what they suspected to be the case. Certainly, when one looks at the
statements issued by the President when he signed into law the 2005
Detainee Treatment Act and the 2006 Military Commissions Act, there was
every indication that he considered himself in no way bound by those
laws as passed by Congress.
There are, of course, enormous implications for the United States
when the President considers himself beyond the reach of the Congress
and outside the scope of the Constitution. The President's policies on
torture have seriously undercut American credibility on the very issues
this administration purports to hold dear--human rights and democracy
promotion.
Can you imagine being at a meeting--like the one that has just
concluded in Warsaw--where the United States is supposed to express its
concern about a whole range of human rights issues, including the issue
of protecting human rights while combating terrorism, when this latest
revelation about this administration's torture policies hits the front
pages?
Regrettably, American credibility as an advocate for human rights and
democracy has continued in free fall in the face of this latest
revelation and attendant implausible denials. Beyond the victims of
abuse themselves, U.S. interests are being seriously undermined,
including the campaign to win hearts and minds around the globe.
Not surprisingly, the administration's dissembling denials cannot
repair the damage that has been done. It will take considerable time to
restore the good name of our country--time, and concrete action by this
body.
In such circumstances, actions speak louder than words, and two steps
must be taken to help restore America's tarnished reputation, help
clear out the thicket of legal cases created by the President's
disastrous policies, and position the United States to build more
effective alliances in our counterterrorism operations.
First, I urge my colleagues to restore habeas corpus--and the sooner,
the better. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 was a travesty of
justice, but perhaps no part of that legislation departed so sharply
from our legal heritage as the decision to deny individuals the most
basic right recognized since the Magna Carta: the right to challenge
their detention. If we are to convince the world that we do not
routinely torture terrorism suspects, providing these detainees one of
the most basic legal safeguards is a good place to start.
Second, we must close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay--a
measure I called for at a hearing on Guantanamo I chaired in June. To
this end, the United States should release or transfer detainees
elsewhere and, for those whom we believe we must hold and try,
detainees should be transferred to the United States. Terror suspects
can be tried by our Federal courts; they might be tried by military
commissions under the Uniform Code of Military Justice; I'd even
consider the establishment of special domestic terror courts, as in
Spain. But it is time for the President to listen to his own senior
officials, including Secretaries Gates and Rice, and close the GTMO
camp.
Madam Speaker, while these two steps are not the only ones necessary
to fully restore America's credibility and respect for the values we
proclaim abroad, they would represent an important start. It is time
for this great country to resume its rightful leadership role on human
rights, democracy and rule of law, but first, it will need to lead by
example.





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Rep. Alcee L. Hastings accepts the 2009 Defenders of Freedom Award in the Russell Senate Office Building, July 29, 2009