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It’s Time to Update United States Law on Torture

A change to US law to include an explicit definition of forbidden acts will put a stop to torture.

The Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee reported on immoral conduct committed by US military and CIA personnel while detaining and interrogating terrorist suspects during the administration of President George W. Bush. The torture described in those reports must never be allowed to happen again.

Although there are many perpetrators who are known to have authorized, ordered or performed acts of torture, they have escaped prosecution by relying on the vague definition of torture written into our current law. Unscrupulous government counsels and their principals used inexplicit wording in the US Code to generate false justification for the use of procedures they euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which are actually torture.

Because no one has been prosecuted for these acts, GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump continues to espouse torture to cheering followers. He tells the crowds he loves waterboarding and promises to interrogate terrorist suspects using waterboarding and more. He implies it is a just punishment for enemies that commit worse atrocities. He speaks freely of his intent to torture, because even though President George W. Bush admitted to authorizing the waterboarding of three people, there has been no consequence. Our nation is in danger of normalizing torture — making it an acceptable practice by our government.

Now is the time to put an end to torture and show the world that the United States is serious when calling for other nations to respect human rights. This is not a partisan issue. This is a human rights issue.

It is disingenuous to say that one cannot define torture. Reasonable people know torture when they see it, but it is necessary to define it clearly in the law to avoid the trickery witnessed in the past. President Obama signed an executive order to limit interrogation techniques to those included in the Army Field Manual. This limitation could be overturned by a future president with the stroke of a pen. It is important to make it impossible for future administrations to go around the law again. This can be done by amending the United States Code to add subparagraph (2)(E) under “Title 18 — Crimes and Criminal Procedure, Chapter 113C — Torture, §2340, Definitions,” to declare that specific acts are torture.

Here is a proposed wording for the new paragraph:

(2)(E) Waterboarding or other means of preventing a person from normal breathing, forced nudity, shackling a person with their hands above their heads, sleep deprivation, subjecting a person to cold temperatures, subjecting a person to hot temperatures, confinement in a box, slamming a person into a wall, sexual humiliation, threatening a person with animals or insects, stress positions (pain positions), withholding food, withholding medical attention, withholding toilet and washing facilities, solitary confinement, subjecting a person to loud noises or loud music, sensory deprivation, slapping, water-dousing, standing for long periods, rape.

It must be made clear to any future leader that it is illegal for those who serve in our military, law enforcement and intelligence communities to violate the absolute right of any human being to be free from torture.

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