Houston, Texas November 14, 2014 – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture claims the United States use of torture techniques has contributed to a breakdown of international order, stating that “We no longer have a universal moral condemnation of torture.”
Special Rapporteur Juan Méndez spoke at the Rothko Chapel in Houston on Thursday night as part of an event called “Mainstreaming Torture”. Méndez is a lawyer and a human rights activist who experienced torture at the hands of the Argentinean military. He also wrote the book Taking a Stand: The Evolution of Human Rights.
Méndez moderated a discussion between Dr. Rebecca Gordon, lecturer at University of San Francisco and author of Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States, and Dr. Sarah Sentilles, Assistant Professor at Pacific Northwest College of Art.
During the discussion Special Rapporteur Méndez stated that the Obama Administration’s use of torture was “a violation of obligations and international law”. He challenged Americans to hold elected officials accountable.
“We must hold the U.S. accountable, to do that we need to release the unredacted Senate report on CIA torture.”
Dr. Gordon gave an empowered breakdown of how torture breaks a persons physical, social, and psychological worlds. “The purpose of torture is not to get information but to destroy those organizations that threaten the state.” She said governments use torture to harm and create fear among the enemy, worry that someone may be giving up valuable information. Dr. Sentilles discussed the various forms of torture including rape, solitary confinement, prisons, slavery, and other forms of mental torture.
After the discussion Special Rapporteur Méndez spoke with me about how the United States looks from an international perspective and as a victim of torture himself. He believes a sense of isolationism and American Exceptionalism are some of the reasons why some Americans support the actions.
The Special Rapporteur also said the United States governments refusal to work with international authorities on the issue has made it easier for other nations to shirk their responsibilities when it comes to international human rights laws. He said the United States seems to think “these rules are all okay, but they do not apply to us.” However, he did say he believes there are portions of the American public who do not support these methods.
“We had a sense of moral condemnation that was truly universal. The nations that tortured denied that they did. Now, after 9/11, we have lost a little bit of the moral high ground. But it can be regained and it should be.”