The Guardian reports that
The US Senate has voted for legislation endorsing President George Bush’s plan for tough measures to interrogate and prosecute terrorism suspects.
The new laws will grant the president permission to authorise interrogation techniques viewed as illegal under international conventions and allow the setting up of “military commissions” to prosecute terror suspects.
This is in apparent contradiction to the UN Convention Against Torture, which defines torture thus:
torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
If someone is prosecuted here for torture under the Criminal Justice Act 1988 — which gives our courts universal jurisdiction, so theoretically Americans could find themselves answering to British courts for their activities at Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere — it’s for the jury to decide what constitutes ‘ intentionally inflict[ing] severe pain or suffering on another’ (the Act goes on to clarify, ‘It is immaterial whether the pain or suffering is physical or mental and whether it is caused by an act or an omission’); what President Bush or anyone else has to say in the matter is immaterial.
This seems to me as it should be; rather than worrying, as have some of the folks whom Jon Swift, the reasonable American conservative surveys, about whether this or that is torture, let a jury decide someone’s been inflicting ‘severe pain or suffering’ — it’s being done in their name, after all. If American juries aren’t considered up to the job, send the alleged torturers over here and let us try them.
This raises an interesting point about our one-sided extradition arrangements with the USA. I’m not quite sure upon whom this ‘President Bush says it’s not torture’ will be inflicted, but as far as I can make out from the AP report,
Those subject to commission trials would be any person “who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents.” Proponents say this definition would not apply to U.S. citizens.
(Neither AP nor many other American news sources seem to have heard of the words alleged or allegedly, by the way).
What guarantees are there that someone whose extradition is requested by the USA for his (or her, I suppose) alleged role in helping fund terrorism or otherwise damaging the US War on Terror won’t face treatment that is banned by British and international law and which is normally a bar to extradition?
It’s all very well saying — as doubtless will be said — that the USA can join the list of countries like Jordan and Lybia with whom we’ve signed ‘memoranda of understanding’ that they won’t torture people we send them, but the problem is that the Americans don’t seem to share our understanding of what the word torture means.
Technorati tags: H.R. 6166, S. 3930, Torture, USA, UK, extradition, war crimes