I periodically post this in comments on other blogs when the topic comes up. A lot of Americans are ignorant of the law regarding torture, and are kept that way, deliberately. Let me clear that up a bit for us all.

The UN Convention on Human Rights was ratified in 1987. [wikipedia] The US became signatory April 18, 1988.

Part of the UN Convention on Human Rights includes torture and criminalizes “extraordinary rendition” thus: [unhcr]

Article 3

1. No State Party shall expel, return (“refouler”) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

2. For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.

That’s pretty clear. Some European states have (rightly) pointed out that under the convention, extraditing a prisoner to the US is illegal, since the US’ prisons engage in forced feeding, anal forced feeding, solitary confinement, and capital punishment. It ought to be obvious to anyone who can read that extraditing a prisoner to the US is illegal under article 3.

The US has engaged in conspiracy to torture under the guise of “extraordinary rendition” since the first Clinton administration, and the program has expanded considerably since then. [aclu][wikipedia] One of the places that people were sent was Syria, so when the US Government says that the Syrian Government are horrible people who keep private torture chambers, they know what they are talking about.

But that’s all fluffy Frenchified international law, easily brushed aside by a bloody-minded US president who just wants to make someone suffer in order to appreciate America’s power.

What most Americans don’t know is that torture and conspiracy to commit torture are capital crimes under US law as well:

18 U.S. Code § 2340 – Definitions

(1) “torture” means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;

(2) “severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from—
(A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;

(B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;

(C) the threat of imminent death; or
(D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality; and
(3) “United States” means the several States of the United States, the District of Columbia, and the commonwealths, territories, and possessions of the United States. [law library]

That’s pretty clear. A few notes: “severe mental pain or suffering” rather obviously covers solitary confinement, anal feeding, forced feeding, sleep deprivation, and playing loud music at prisoners – all of which are in use at various prisons but most notably at Gitmo. Gitmo is covered under “commonwealths, territories, and possessions of the United States” – it’s  a US military facility.

18 U.S. Code § 2340A – Torture

Whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.

(b) Jurisdiction.—There is jurisdiction over the activity prohibited in subsection (a) if—

(1) the alleged offender is a national of the United States; or
(2) the alleged offender is present in the United States, irrespective of the nationality of the victim or alleged offender.
(c) Conspiracy.— A person who conspires to commit an offense under this section shall be subject to the same penalties (other than the penalty of death) as the penalties prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the conspiracy. [law library]

That’s about as clear as a searchlight shining right in your face:

  1. Torture is a capital crime.
  2. It is illegal in the US. ( “commonwealths, territories, and possessions of the United States” )
  3. It doesn’t matter at all if the victim is a naughty person, a whistle-blower, an “illegal combatant” or any other label someone wants to hang on them.
  4. Conspiracy to commit torture is not a capital crime, but it’s a serious crime and people committing it can be fined or imprisoned for up to 20 years.

“We tortured some folks. We did things that were contrary to our values.”

And Barack Obama decided to “move forward” instead of “looking back” regarding a capital crime – a massive criminal conspiracy – under US law. The first rule of conspiracy club is: you’re either in the conspiracy or you’re not.

As David Morrison eloquently said:
“The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”
In fact let me quote a bit more of Morrison:
“Their behavior has not only brought the [Australian Army] into disrepute, but has let down every one of you and all of those whose past service has won the respect of our nation.”

Meanwhile, the FBI spent a huge amount of time and energy looking at Hillary Clinton’s email server. Priorities, people, priorities!!!

The US’ policy on torture guarantees that any captured US service or diplomatic personnel will be subjected to torture. Why not? “It’s how things are done,” as Barack Obama says. The US political establishment is more concerned with protecting “their guy” than seeing justice done, so since the two parties that control the country have both had presidents involved in torture, “we’ve got to look forward, not back” Because forward is the next election.

The complicit, cowardly, media has played along with successive administrations’ use of weasel-words like “extraordinary rendition” or “enhanced interrogation techniques” and has helped fig-leaf the illegal actions of politicians. Meanwhile, they bay like chihuahuas howling at the moon about Clinton’s email server or Jared Kushners’ sleazy business practices, while allowing a massive criminal conspiracy to pat itself on the back and look forward, not back.
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Re: “extreme rendition” – I loathe the way the bureaucrats of cruelty and war come up with terms that deflect and diminish their crimes. It’s “conspiracy to torture” not “rendition,” call it “Sonderbehandlungmotherfuckers.

I wonder if Morrison wrote that speech himself. Whoever did, it’s a doozie. And it’s kind of hard to watch his delivery and think “oh he doesn’t mean that.”  Unlike President Obama who suddenly goes all ‘southern’ “We tortured some folks.”  That most un-presidential moment in the career of someone who won the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Committee should have called him and asked him to “Fedex it back tomorrow, please.”

Any officer of the law, who is sworn to uphold the law, ought to cuff and perp-walk any US President, AG, or CIA director that they encounter, at any time, and extradite them to The Hague. That is called “Extraordinary Shit Hitting The Fan” and it would be glorious.

I posted this before, but it bears repeating: [stderr]  Naive Americans have bought the ideal that WWII was a fight to save the world from a great evil. Among that great evil’s many sub-evils was this one, which the US government has been enshrining, conspiring to commit, and colluding to conceal:


  1. Bruce says

    I think this blog post is both valid and valuable.
    Unfortunately, I imagine what the Presidents would say:
    They would quote this:

    18 U.S. Code § 2340 – Definitions
    (1) “torture” means … (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) …

    Then they would say that everything we are talking about was related to lawful sanction, so it doesn’t count.

    I feel that this interpretation would not be valid, but that nobody would get cooperation from a US court in trying to enforce it. Unless some American went to The Hague and submitted themselves to its jurisdiction voluntarily, we wouldn’t get any support to promote the following of US law. So I am not optimistic.

  2. says

    Just for starters, President George W. Bush, Vice President Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft belong in prison forever THE END.

    What makes this injustice far worse is that meanwhile, ordinary citizens—especially people of color—are routinely subjected to over-policing, harsh sentencing, brutal treatment and torture in our nation’s prisons on an unprecedented scale, often for minor drug crimes. Sometimes people serve long sentences without being convicted of any crime at all (e.g. because of the inability to afford pre-trial bail). It’s grotesque.

  3. says

    The “lawful sanctions” bit is intended to cover the necessary force to arrest and handle someone post arrest. I.e. If Cheney or Obama or their security team put up a fight while being arrested, or had to be handcuffed and leg-cuffed while being taken to prison, that is acceptable.

    Remember, I just quoted US Code – there’s also international law, which doesn’t have any “necessary sanctions” cut out.

    I agree that they would make specious arguments – after all that’s what they have done so far – but the real problem is that US law enforcement, the media, and apologists for the supremacy of nationalism have let them get away with it. The first rule of conspiracy club is if you don’t stop the conspiracy you’re complicit.

  4. Bruce says

    I agree. I think your third and final paragraph here is the best summary of the situation. Virtually everyone in the establishment would rather misinterpret all statutes to avoid criticizing their brothers and sisters in the establishment.
    The first rule of Torture Club is that to stay in, you have to remember to be loyal to everyone in Torture Club.
    It’s too bad we don’t have an older Club that we are all members of, and have some higher loyalty with. We could have called it United States of America club.

  5. cartomancer says

    O nomen dulce libertatis! O ius eximium nostrae civitatis! O lex Porcia legesque Semproniae!

    That’s Cicero bewailing the impotence of his own state’s laws against torture (well, capital punishment of citizens by torture anyway) in the face of a corrupt Sicilian governor on the take. It’s far from a new phenomenon. Though in this case the defendant (Gaius Verres) realised the game was up and fled into exile before he was convicted. One can only hope the modern day Gaii Verrines would do likewise.