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UN Committee Against Torture Issues Report on United States

The United Nations Committee Against Torture issued a combined report encompassing its third to fifth periodic reports on the United States at its 1276th and 1277th meetings held on November 20, 2014. The report lauded some improvements under U.S. jurisdiction, but still found plenty to criticize. PLN had submitted comments for review by the committee in September 2014.

The report noted that extending habeas corpus rights to Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo) detainees, prohibiting the torture of persons detained by the military, prohibiting the sentence of life without parole for children not convicted of murder and barring mandatory life without parole for children (although not retroactively), revising rules for the use of segregation in immigration detainment facilities, promulgating national standards under the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, and admitting that some of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" used during the Bush era were acts of torture were positive developments. However, there is no specific federal criminal offense of torture and the U.S. continues to maintain a restrictive interpretation of the provisions of the anti-torture convention which could allow torture.

The committee called for a full and complete investigation of the torture committed by the CIA at its black ops prisons and the military at its overseas prisons and declassification of the records of those prisons. It also called for punishment of the personnel who committed such torture.

The committee called for an end to the indefinite detention without charges of prisoners at Gitmo and restated that this constitutes a per se violation of the anti-torture convention. It called for a full and open investigation of prisoner maltreatment and deaths at Gitmo.

The committee criticized the use of sleep deprivation caused by what the Army Field Manual terms "physical separation" and "field expedient separation" techniques for interrogation. It noted that even limits of four hours of continuous sleep every 24 hours constituted sleep deprivation.

Noting that expedited removal procedures in use at the southwest border were inadequate to take into account the special circumstances of some asylum seekers, the committee recommended a confidential and thorough risk assessment for such migrants and a less restrictive interpretation of the "credible fear" screening standard. It also recommended the development of community-based alternatives to immigration detention, expanded use of foster care for unaccompanied children and an end to family detention expansion.

The committee recommended reducing the use of solitary confinement. It should be used as a last resort and never used on juveniles, persons with mental health issues, pregnant women, nursing women and women with infants.

The committee criticized the six states that have refused to become PREA certified and the negative effect on the enforcement of prisoners' rights the Prison Litigation Reform Act has had. It noted that pregnant prisoners were still being shackled during labor, delivery and post-partum recovery in many states. It criticized the exposure of prisoners to extremes of heat and the placement of juveniles in adult facilities.

The committee also noted that executions had been botched and there were lengthy delays in carrying out executions (a form of torture). It welcomed the abolishment of the death penalty in six additional states. It also noted the use of excessive and often terminal force against unarmed black persons by police and the excessive and sometimes fatal use of Tasers. Essentially, the U.S. has made improvements, but still has a long way to go.

Source: Concluding observations on the third to fifth periodic reports of United States of America, United Nations Committee Against Torture (Advance Unedited Version)

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