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The ‘war on terrorism’ led to a worldwide increase of torture

US practices have encouraged other countries to engage in torture, former UN special rapporteur on torture says

Western nations are among those scrutinized in Amnesty International's report on Global Torture set to be released on Tuesday. 

The human rights group’s report comes on the heels of a vote by the Senate Intelligence Committee to declassify a 480-page report summarizing the CIA’s interrogation programs, which were chronicled in a 5-year internal investigation into the treatment of detainees. The Senate report has sparked a feud between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee that has led to a judicial review of whether some of the documents the Senate obtained were not cleared for release.

Larry Siems, author of “The Torture Report,” and Manfred Nowak, the former U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, sat down with Al Jazeera America’s David Shuster to discuss how America’s use of torture during its war on terrorism has helped make torture a socially accepted practice worldwide. Their conversation was part of the channel’s regular Sunday night segment “The Week Ahead.”

“The United States has long been against torture,” Siems said. “But, unfortunately, because of the U.S.’s own post-9/11 rendition, detention and interrogation program, we ourselves have come under scrutiny … We have lost a lot of influence or ability to influence the conduct of other governments.”

Nowak, who is now a visiting professor at Stanford University, added that the U.S. — which was once viewed as a vanguard in the fight for human rights worldwide — encouraged other countries to engage in torture as part of the war.

President Barack Obama has also come under fire for his handling of torture cases. The president promised to shut down the controversial detention center at Guantanamo Bay and has yet to offer any reparations to victims.


Juan Mendez, the UN’s current special rapporteur on torture, told Al Jazeera that the U.S. still has a lot to do in order to improve its record.

“The government of the United States needs to investigate, prosecute and punish and disclose information of everything that happened before the prohibition of 2009,” Mendez, a victim of torture in his native Argentina, said.   

Mendez added that it is difficult to know whether the U.S. government still employs these techniques given the secrecy surrounding previous programs.

The U.S.’s use of torture has led the public to lose some sense of what is cruel and degrading, Siems added, leading to the widespread use of practices such as solitary confinement in American prisons.

“In the United States, there has been a kind of degradation with our sense of common humanity — with our belief in the dignity of every human being,” Siems said. “It’s that belief that underpins the Torture Convention and all of our constitutional protections.”

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