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.”