Title

Troubling Trends: Human Rights in Russia

Tuesday, June 05, 2001
9:30am
334 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20003
United States
Members: 
Name: 
Hon. Ben Nighthorse Campbell
Title Text: 
Chairman
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Statement: 
Name: 
Hon. Chris Smith
Title Text: 
Co-Chairman
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Statement: 
Name: 
Hon. Steny Hoyer
Title Text: 
Ranking Member
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Statement: 
Name: 
Hon. Russell Feingold
Title Text: 
Commissioner
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Statement: 
Name: 
Hon. Joseph Pitts
Title Text: 
Commissioner
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Statement: 
Witnesses: 
Name: 
John Beyrle
Title: 
Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for the Newly Independent States
Body: 
United States Department of State
Statement: 
Name: 
Dr. Elena Bonner
Title: 
Chairman
Body: 
Andrei Sakharov Foundation
Statement: 
Name: 
Paul Goble
Title: 
Director of Communications
Body: 
Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty
Statement: 
Name: 
Emil Pain
Title: 
Galina Starovoitova Fellow on Human Rights and Conflict Resolution
Body: 
Woodrow Wilson International Center
Statement: 
Name: 
Boris Jordan
Title: 
General Director
Body: 
NTV
Statement: 

The purpose of this hearing was to highlight the improvements in human rights in Russia since and to focus on the areas in which reform is still needed. The politicized imprisonments, restrictive legislation that muzzles Internet publications, defamation lawsuits has made independent media outlets struggle to survive and impunity in violent attacks against journalists.

These attacks against the media were focused on well-known cases and extraordinary circumstances in Russia. From burdensome registration requirements and visits by the tax police to the confiscation of entire print runs and imposition of crippling fines, from criminal charges for defamation of individuals, institutions or the state, free media faces myriad threats and challenges today.

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  • OSCE 101: Briefing for Civil Society

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According to a June 2008 report by Human Rights Watch, "Beginning in summer 2007, insurgents' attacks on public officials, law enforcement and security personnel, and civilians rose sharply [in Ingushetia]." These attacks, in turn, have led to brutal retaliation by the authorities and several seemingly senseless and unsolved murders of non-Ingush residents in the republic. According to the respected Russian human rights organization, "Memorial," at least 400 persons disappeared in Ingushetia between 2002 and 2006. The effect is such, argues Human Rights Watch, that Ingushetia is beginning to resemble the Chechnya of former years. The situation in Ingushetia was exacerbated in 2002 when Moscow replaced the popular president, retired Lt. Gen. Murad Aushev, with a Kremlin favorite who is disliked by many residents for his repressive policies and inability to deal with the growing disorder in the republic. 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Hastings and Kanerva had a lengthy exchange regarding developments in Kosovo and their implications for Balkans as well as the possibility of sustained OSCE engagement in the region. Kanerva, who had just returned from a visit to Belgrade and Priština, observed that the OSCE has played an important role in Kosovo -- in establishing and consolidating local institutions, in promoting democratization, the rule of law, as well as human and minority rights. “Because the OSCE has remained “status-neutral,” it has retained a unique ability to work with all ethnic communities in promoting stability and democratic development. It is my firm belief that the OSCE work in Kosovo is and will be beneficial to all Kosovars,” concluded the Minister. He continued, “The outcome of the status process could have a negative impact on the OSCE's engagement in Kosovo. You are well aware that the OSCE participating States remain deeply divided over the issue. This disagreement could lead to the current Mission’s termination. It would be a grave mistake for the OSCE and the entire international community if we were to leave it at that.” Chairman Hastings, who visited both Priština and the northern area around Mitrovitsa last June, remarked, “My overall concern comes again from personal experience. The OSCE mission in Kosovo complemented by the tremendous activities that the KFOR forces deployed to keep the peace there is one of, in my judgment, the most successful OSCE missions, capable of working with the various factions in that area. I always ask the question: if there was no OSCE mission or had not been there in recent years, what would be the situation on the ground there today? And how much closer would the parties be to arriving at a resolution of what is, by anybody's standards, a substantial conflict? Minister Kanerva stressed, “I am determined to ensure continued OSCE engagement in Kosovo regardless of the status process. I am aware of the fact that any participating State has the possibility to use a veto and to end the mandate of the present mission - the mission which at the moment comprises 800 people and which has an immense effect on the viability of the civil society. Should this happen, I am prepared to immediately start the negotiations on a revised mandate for the OSCE mission. I am convinced that all participating States agree on the need for continued OSCE engagement in Kosovo.” Regarding conflicts elsewhere in the OSCE region, Kanerva remarked, “The Finnish chairmanship has put the so-called frozen or protracted conflicts in Moldova, Georgia, and Nagorno-Karabakh at the top of our agenda. I will personally visit all of these regions. I have already nominated also a special envoy to survey the progress in the process. One of the first things I have already done was to visit Ukraine and Moldova, to examine possibilities to kick start the stalled negotiation on the Transdnistria conflict. The Government of Moldova and the leadership for Transdnistria indicate their willingness to reengage and I have tasked my special envoy to see what can be done to take the process forward. We have knowledge of the difficulties in front of us. But we can't give up.” Minister Kanerva announced his intention to visit the South Caucasus nations of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Chairman Hastings asked Kanerva to raise concerns relating to media freedom in Azerbaijan, the subject of a Commission hearing late last year, and provided a list of specific cases. Numerous other human rights concerns were also discussed from combating anti-Semitism and trafficking in humans as well as promoting democracy. In prepared remarks, Co-Chairman Benjamin L. Cardin stressed the importance of sustained OSCE engagement in efforts to fight anti-Semitism. “In recent weeks we have convened a series of hearings to assess the ongoing work of the OSCE in this regard and have heard from experts. These sessions have confirmed the importance of maintaining a distinct focus on anti-Semitism, and resisting attempts by some to reduce the attention under some kinds of generic tolerance rubric. It has also become clear that the personal representatives need some form of meaningful support mechanism. Perhaps some arrangement could be put in place by the troika of past, present, and future OSCE chairs, to ensure continuity,” remarked Cardin. Similar concerns were echoed in a statement by Ranking Minority Member Christopher H. Smith, “I appeal to you, in your term as Chairman-in-Office, not to allow the OSCE to give in to this fatigue and indifference! Anti-Semitism remains what it has always been, a unique evil, a distinct form of intolerance, the oldest form of religious bigotry, and a malignant disease of the heart that has often led to murder. It continues to threaten our Jewish brothers and sisters, and so the OSCE must redouble its efforts in the fight against the scourge of anti-Semitism. Smith, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President’s Special Representative on Human Trafficking welcomed the commitment of the Finnish chairmanship to give priority attention to OSCE efforts to prevent human trafficking, with particular attention to child victims. Russia’s troubling attempts to restrict the scope and size of OSCE election observations missions was also raised. Minister Kanerva expressed disappointment that, despite a concerted effort by OSCE, an acceptable solution could not be worked out to enable the deployment of an observation mission to Russia for the March 2nd presidential elections. He outlined his views regarding observation of the entire election process. “It means candidate and voter registration, electoral campaign, media coverage, complaints and appeals. The ODIHR must continue to be in a position to determine the length and size of observation missions on professional grounds in order to produce meaningful assessments and recommendations benefiting the observed country.” Having headed monitoring missions to Azerbaijan, Belarus, Ukraine, and most recently Georgia, Chairman Hastings called for a timely invitation for OSCE to observe the upcoming November U.S. elections. Kanerva thanked Hastings for his leadership of the mission to Georgia in early January and underscored the importance of close cooperation between ODIHR and the OSCE PA. Turning to Afghanistan, an OSCE Partner for Cooperation country, the Chairman welcomed the role played by Finnish forces in the northern part of that country. Minister Kanerva reported that active discussions were underway among OSCE countries regarding the kinds of initiatives that might be undertaken to assist Afghanistan pursuant to a general decision agreed to by the Madrid OSCE Ministerial Council last November. Priority attention is being given to strengthening border security and management, including along the 750 mile border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. “At the same time we are discussing whether the OSCE might eventually become active on Afghan territory,” said Kanerva. Before concluding the hearing, the Chairman-in-Office and Chairman Hastings touched on ways to enhance cooperation among the OSCE participating States and strengthen the organization. Hastings acknowledged the complex task of managing the OSCE given the diversity of countries and diverging views among some on fundamental aspects of the organization and its mission. The two agreed on the importance of engagement with Russia. One possibility raised by Chairman Hastings was the assembling of a “Council of Elder Statesmen” along the lines proposed by the Hamburg-based Centre for OSCE Research in its working paper, “Identifying the Cutting Edge: The Future Impact of the OSCE.” In an innovative move, the Finnish chairmanship has expanded the Troika – past, present, and future chairs – to include others slated to assume leadership of OSCE in future years. At the Madrid OSCE Ministerial Council agreement was reached on chairmanships for Greece in 2009, Kazakhstan in 2010 and Lithuania in 2011. “I have invited my colleagues from the future chairmanships of Kazakhstan and Lithuania,” Kanerva reported, “to meet with the current Troika countries Spain, Finland and Greece to develop ideas for longer-term priorities. I am convinced there are many issues where the "Quintet" can add value and lead to more coherent OSCE action in the next few years.” Minister Kanerva concluded, “The Helsinki Commission embodies the longstanding engagement of the United States with the OSCE and the values that underpin it. The OSCE can only work with the full engagement of its participating States. The United States has always played a key role, and must continue to do so, if we are to achieve the ambitious goals we have set for our Organization.”

  • Human Rights, Civil Society, and Democratic Governance in Russia: Current Situation and Prospects for the Future

    This hearing, chaired by Helsinki Commission Chairman Hon. Sam Brownback and Ranking Member the Hon. Benjamin Cardin, focused on the tumoltuous developement of human right in Russia. For the past few years, a series of events in Russia has given cause for concern about the fate of human rights, civil society, and democratic governance in that country. Of particular concern is the recent promulgation of a law establishing greater governmental control over NGOs and an attempt by the Russian secret services to link prominent Russian NGOs with foreign intelligence services. Newsweek International wrote in its February 6, 2006 issue: “The Russian secret service is acting more and more like the old KGB.” At the same time, the Russian Federation accedes this year to the chairmanship of the Group of Eight Industrialized Nations (G-8), and will chair the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers beginning in May 2006.  

  • Taking Stock: Combating Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region (Part II)

    This hearing, which Commissioner Alcee L. Hastings presided over, was the second in a set of hearings that focused on combating anti-Semitism in the OSCE region. Hastings lauded the efforts regarding this approach to anti-Semitism by bringing up how impressive it was for these states to look at issues of tolerance, while a few years before the hearing took place, not all participating states thought that there was a problem. Since the Commission’s efforts regarding anti-Semitism began in 2002 with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, a lot of progress had been achieved, but attendees did discuss work that still needed to be accomplished. For example, as per Commission findings, even Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenka had made anti-Semitic comments, underscoring the inadequate efforts the Belarusian government had made to hold those guilty of anti-Semitic vandalism accountable. The Russian Federation had operated under similar circumstances, but the situation for Jewish individuals was better in Turkey. However, attendees did discuss “skinhead gangs” and similar groups elsewhere in the OSCE.   http://www.csce.gov/video/archive2-08.ram

  • The Madrid Ministerial Council

    By Janice Helwig and Winsome Packer, Staff Advisors The OSCE participating States concluded the year with a meeting of the Ministerial Council on November 29-30, 2007. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns headed the U.S. delegation. Helsinki Commission Chairman Alcee L. Hastings also participated. Overall Dynamics Tensions remained high within the OSCE in the lead up to the Madrid Ministerial, reducing expectations for any ambitious new initiatives which would need to garner the consensus of all 56 participating States. The high-level meeting in the Spanish capital capped off a year punctuated by fundamental disagreements in the security as well as human dimensions. Russia had made a concerted effort to gain control over OSCE election observation activities and reports, introducing a proposal to effectively subordinate every step of the observation process to consensus, including agreement by the country to be observed on the assessment. Along with Belarus and Turkmenistan, they similarly sought to institute burdensome bureaucratic obstacles to curtail NGO participation in OSCE activities. As in the past, the Russians insisted that there was a need for far reaching reform of the OSCE itself. Additionally, the Kremlin had threatened to “suspend” its participation in the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). Other highly charged issues included Kazakhstan’s longstanding bid to chair the OSCE and the future of Kosovo and the expiring mandate for the OSCE Mission (OMIK) there. Several participating States, including the United States, were reticent about Astana’s leadership aspiration given gaps in its implementation of OSCE commitments, particularly those on democracy and human rights. Meanwhile, Serbia and Russia were threatening to close OMIK if the Kosovars were to unilaterally declare independence. Despite these potentials pitfalls, negotiations at the Ministerial overall proceeded constructively. Although consensus was not reached on some issues, decisions were ultimately taken on several priority issues following protracted debate, including the Kazakhstan chairmanship and an initiative to strengthen OSCE involvement with Afghanistan. As happened at the 2002 Porto Ministerial, the Madrid meeting had to be suspended while negotiations continued on the margins past the scheduled closing. Earlier in the day, Russia had reneged on its agreement to the decision on OSCE engagement with Afghanistan (which was important to the United States), most likely in retaliation to the U.S. blocking a Russian-sponsored draft decision on OSCE election monitoring. Because agreement on several other decisions was tied to the decision on Afghanistan, consensus on other decisions was at risk. In the end, the Afghanistan and the other decisions were agreed to in the late afternoon, almost five hours after the Ministerial had been scheduled to close. At the closing session at which the decisions were adopted, there was a flurry of interpretive statements as a result of the compromises made to reach consensus. Main issues Kazakhstan’s Chairmanship Bid – The decision on upcoming chairmanships of the OSCE was a focus of numerous bilateral meetings and negotiations. Since 2003, Kazakhstan had expressed its desire to lead the Vienna-based OSCE, possibly in 2009. Some – mainly countries belonging to the CIS – insisted that Kazakhstan deserved the leadership position simply based on its membership in the Organization and argued that Western countries were discriminating against a former Soviet State with their opposition. Others had hoped to prompt Kazakhstan to improve its rights record. In the end, an agreement was reached on future chairmanships: Greece in 2009, Kazakhstan in 2010, and Lithuania in 2011. Kazakhstan made it clear in its statement to the Ministerial that it would uphold long-held tenets of the human dimension such as the autonomy of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), as well as participation of NGOs in OSCE meetings. The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe – During various CFE side meetings, the U.S. and Russia skirmished over the Russian Federation’s decision to suspend participation in the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe on December 12, 2007. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Daniel Fried, led negotiations aimed at addressing Russian concerns and convincing Moscow not to suspend its participation in the Treaty, to no avail. In particular, the Russians had called for abolishment of flank restrictions, arguing that these requirements constrain their effectiveness in addressing terrorism within their territory. The lifting of the flank agreement would allow the Russians to increase their military forces in the Caucasus region of Russia without limits. Russia had also pressed for discarding the requirement in the original CFE agreement which set collective ceilings limiting the equipment/personnel each alliance (NATO/Warsaw PACT) could have in the "Atlantic to the Urals" area and in any given signatory country. Ratification of the Adaptation Agreement would do away with the collective ceilings, recognizing that the Warsaw Pact no longer exists, and permitting Russia to move personnel and equipment more freely in Russia. However, Russia wants assurance that the 20,000 tanks ceiling for the NATO in Europe will remain in place as new members join the alliance. Russia also took issue with the linkage of the allies’ ratification of the Adapted CFE to Russia’s fulfillment of the related Istanbul Commitments to withdraw its armed forces from Georgian and Moldovan territories. Russian Federation negotiator, Anatoly Antonov rejected calls to transfer of the Gadauta military base to Georgian control without agreement from Georgian authorities to permit Russia to maintain a “peacekeeping” force there. He also objected to U.S. demands for inspections at Gadauta and called for the Baltic States to ratify the Adapted CFE. Georgia emphatically objected to any consideration to “legitimize” the presence of Russian forces on Georgian territory. It became apparent that the Russians had presumed that their decision to suspend the CFE would gain them more leverage in negotiations with NATO allies. However, the allies remained united in their opposition to reopening the treaty to negotiations. Many present took Russia’s announcement of suspension of the CFE Treaty on the final day of the Ministerial to indicate that Russia had not been serious about trying to reach an agreement in Madrid. The future of Kosovo and the OSCE Mission in Kosovo (OMIK) was another focus, although more in statements by the Ministers than in negotiations. There was an attempt to get a declaration on Kosovo that would have included support for the continuation of OMIK regardless of the outcome of the status of Kosovo, but the proposed text was blocked by Russia and Serbia. Many countries, including the U.S., urged the unconditional continuation of OMIK in their statements to the Ministerial Council. NGOs were able to attend the Ministerial as at similar meetings in the past, although the invitation to do so came at a late date and so reduced the level of participation. Preserving this aspect of the Council meeting was particularly important as Russia, Belarus, and Turkmenistan had been questioning procedures for NGO participation in other OSCE meetings and blocked a draft Ministerial decision on Human Rights Defenders. Nonetheless, some NGOs did face access problems and had trouble getting into the conference center on the first day, although the opening plenary was supposed to be open to them. Helsinki Commission Chairman Congressman Alcee Hastings and Department of State Assistant Secretary for Europe Dan Fried held meetings with some NGOs in order to show their support. Increasing OSCE involvement with partner country Afghanistan was supported by the United States There also was wide support for the decision among countries at the Madrid meeting, though Russia and France were unconvinced that the OSCE should be working outside the territory of participating States. In the end, there was consensus on OSCE activities related to border management, with the caveat that most of the activities would take place in OSCE counties bordering Afghanistan. An effort to adopt a draft convention giving legal personality to the OSCE and providing privileges and immunities for OSCE personnel was, for the moment at least, scuttled by Russia. The idea of providing a legal framework for OSCE activities has kicked around for years, especially after the establishment of OSCE institutions and missions. Over the past year, negotiations had produced an arguably viable draft convention, which a number of participating States hoped would be adopted in Madrid and opened for signature. Although Russia ostensibly supports the draft treaty, it has now conditioned acceptance of the treaty on the simultaneous adoption of an OSCE “charter.” For the United States and some other countries, this linkage was a deal-breaker since drafting a charter opens the door to re-writing the fundamental principles of the OSCE.

  • Human Rights and Democracy in Belarus off to a Discouraging Start in the New Year

    Madam Speaker, last month, I chaired a Helsinki Commission briefing with a delegation of leading political opposition figures and democratic activists from Belarus. The briefing was entitled, ``The Future Belarus: Democracy or Dictatorship'' and focused on the prospects for change in a country located in the heart of Europe that has Europe's worst track record with respect to human rights and democracy. Unfortunately, developments since the delegation's visit to Washington have been deeply discouraging and do not bode well for Belarus' democratic future. One of the young people who testified at the briefing, 19-year-old Zmitser Fedaruk, spoke eloquently of the dangers that young human rights activists face in Belarus. His words were prophetic, as a few days later, back in Belarus, he was beaten and knocked unconscious by riot policemen, then rushed by ambulance to the hospital. Just last week, the Minsk district prosecutor's office in Minsk refused to open an investigation into Zmitser's beating. A day earlier, my friend Anatoly Lebedka, one of Belarus' staunchest defenders of democratic rights, who also testified before the Commission, was roughed up by Belarusian police as well. It was far from the first time that this leader of the democratic opposition had been beaten up or repressed by the Lukashenka regime. On January 4, the Lukashenka regime banned Anatoly from travelling abroad in what was obviously a politically-motivated decision. Today, Anatoly is in jail serving a 15-day sentence, along with several dozen other pro-democracy and small business advocates who participated in a January 10 protest against restrictions on activities of small businesses. Some of the activists--mostly young people--received injuries during their arrest. Tatyana Tsishkevch, who was severely beaten during her arrest and presented her bloodstained jacket in court, received a 20-day sentence. Arsien Pakhomau, a freelance photo correspondent for ``Nasha Niva'' weekly--one of the very few remaining independent publications in Belarus--was also sentenced to 15 days' administrative arrest. On the day of the protest, a number of websites that cover social and economic affairs in Belarus, such as Charter '97 and Radio Liberty, were partially or fully blocked by the authorities. These most recent repressive actions follow the sentencing of opposition activist Artur Finkevich to 18 months in prison; the arbitrary use of judicial power to put out of business independent newspapers such as ``Novi Chas''; steps to liquidate the opposition Belarusian Communist Party; and the fining of Baptist pastor Yuri Kravchuk for unregistered religious activity. Belarus is the only country in Europe with compulsory registration before religious activity can take place. Unfortunately, the indications in just the first few weeks of this New Year are not encouraging. Lukashenka's presidential administration has recently rejected the opposition's proposal to hold talks on the upcoming 2008 parliamentary elections, refusing an offer by the Belarusian opposition to consider joint proposals on conducting parliamentary elections in accordance with democratic standards. Madam Speaker, as Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission and as someone who has long been involved in the OSCE process to promote security, cooperation, democracy and human rights among the 56 OSCE countries, including Belarus, I am deeply disappointed in the Belarusian Government's continual flaunting of freely undertaken OSCE commitments. It is my strong hope that Mr. Lukashenka will cease the self-imposed isolation of his country--threatening, most recently, to expel U.S. Ambassador Karen Stewart--and will give serious thought to the offers of cooperation that have come from the United States and the European Union if Belarus releases political prisoners and displays respect for basic democratic norms. In the meantime, the Lukashenka regime can be assured that my colleagues and I on the Helsinki Commission are determined to stand by Anatoly Lebedka, Dzmitri Fedaruk and all those in Belarus--young and old--bravely struggling for freedom, democracy and respect for human rights.

  • Torture

    Madam President, as co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I chaired a field hearing this week at the University of Maryland College Park campus. The title of that hearing was “Is It Torture Yet?”, the same question I was left with after Attorney General Michael Mukasey's nomination hearings.  The day of the hearings was also International Human Rights Day, which commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights nearly 60 years ago. The historic document declares, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” In the Helsinki process, the United States has joined with 55 other participating States to condemn torture. I want to quote one particular provision, because it speaks with such singular clarity. In 1989, in the Vienna Concluding Document, the United States, along with the Soviet Union and all of the other participating States, agreed to “ensure that all individuals in detention or incarceration will be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.” This is the standard, with no exceptions or loopholes, which the United States is obligated to uphold.  I deeply regret that six decades after the adoption of the Universal Declaration, we find it necessary to hold a hearing on torture and, more to the point, I regret that the United States' own policies and practices must be a focus of our consideration.  As a member of the Helsinki Commission, I have long been concerned about the persistence of torture and other forms of abuse in the OSCE region. For example, I am troubled by the pattern of torture in Uzbekistan, a country to which the United States has extradited terror suspects. Radio Free Europe reported that in November alone two individuals died while in the custody of the state. When their bodies were returned to their families, they bore the markings of torture. And, as our hearing began, we were notified that a third individual had died under the same circumstances.  Torture remains a serious problem in a number of OSCE countries, particularly in the Russian region of Chechnya. If the United States is to address these issues credibly, we must get our own house in order.  Unfortunately, U.S. leadership in opposition to torture and other forms of ill-treatment has been undermined by revelations of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere. When Secretary of State Rice met with leading human rights activists in Moscow in October, she was made aware that the American forces' conduct at Abu Ghraib has damaged the United States' credibility on human rights.  As horrific as the revelations of abuse at Abu Ghraib were, our Government's own legal memos on torture may be even more damaging, because they reflect a policy to condone torture and immunize those who may have committed torture.  In this regard, I was deeply disappointed by the unwillingness of Attorney General Mukasey to state clearly and unequivocally that waterboarding is torture. I chaired part of the Attorney General's Judiciary confirmation hearing and found his responses to torture-related questions woefully inadequate. On November 14, I participated in another Judiciary Committee hearing at which an El Salvadoran torture survivor testified. This medical doctor, who can no longer practice surgery because of the torture inflicted upon him, wanted to make one thing very clear: as someone who had been the victim of what his torturers called “the bucket treatment,” he said, waterboarding is torture.  This week, this issue came up again, this time at the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing on Guantanamo. One of the witnesses was BG Thomas Hartman, who was specifically asked whether evidence obtained by waterboarding was admissible in Guantanamo legal proceedings. Like Judge Mukasey, he would not directly answer that question. Nor would he respond directly when asked if a circumstance arose, hypothetically, whether waterboarding by Iranians of a U.S. airman shot down over Iran would be legal according to the Geneva Conventions. In fact, the Geneva Conventions prohibit the use of any coercive interrogation methods to obtain information from a Prisoner of War. I am deeply concerned that the administration's efforts to avoid calling waterboarding what it is, torture, is undermining the interpretation of the Geneva Conventions, which we have relied upon for decades to protect our own service men and women.  The destruction of tapes by the CIA showing the interrogation of terror suspects raises a host of additional concerns. First, these tapes may have documented the use of methods that may very well have violated U.S. law. Second, the tapes may have been destroyed in violation of court orders to preserve exactly these sorts of materials. If the administration is willing to destroy evidence in violation of a valid court order, we have a serious rule-of-law problem. Finally, it is profoundly disturbing that materials formally and explicitly sought by the 9/11 Commission, mandated to investigate one of the worst attacks on American soil in the history of our country, were not turned over by the CIA. The destruction of the CIA tapes should be carefully investigated.  Mr. President, the Congress must act to ensure that abuses by U.S. Government personnel are not committed on the false theory that this somehow makes our country safer.

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