In a DW interview, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture lauds the US Senate committee’s report, but regrets the heavy redactions. He urges legal consequences and wants Russia, China and Iran to release their own reports.
Juan Méndez is the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.
DW: In an open letter last month you and other UN experts urged the US to release the Senate torture report. Are you satisfied that the Obama administration did publish it despite massive pressure not to?
Juan Méndez: It wasn’t the Obama administration it was the Senate Committee on Intelligence. But it is good and the Senate is part of the state represented in the international community. I would have preferred that the report was much less redacted than it is. And I also expect that in the future the whole report, not only the executive summary, be released. I know that thousands of pages are not easy to release, but at least for history, for posterity it should be released.
But having said all that I have to say that this report is a good example of how good investigations on this very difficult subject should be done. It is thorough and it engages all possible angles of the matter. It’s a devastating picture, but the Senate Committee on Intelligence deserves credit for coming clean on a history that is not easy to report on.
What is the most important thing you have learned from it so far?
The most important thing is that our worst fears about how extensive and how cruel and damaging torture was used during the first years of the global war on terror were confirmed. But also it shows how much denial and deviousness and lying to Congress and to the American public took place. I do expect however that everybody should understand that this is a first step and that the United States doesn’t fulfill all of its obligations by publishing its report. Because under the Convention against Torture the state is also required to investigate, prosecute and punish everybody who should be responsible.
Do you expect the US to do so?
No, I don’t, but it is important to insist on it. And I don’t expect it to happen anytime soon, but it doesn’t mean that it cannot happen down the road. And that’s why I think experiences with other countries show what is impossible to envision doing today may become possible in the future. And it is important to leave all these possibilities open so that it might happen.
China, Russia, Iran and other countries with grave and ongoing human rights problems have used the report to lash out severely against Washington. Are they justified to do so in your opinion?
They can say whatever they want. They have to live up to their own obligations as well and we in the United Nations are going to try to hold them up to those obligations. There is plenty of truth-telling to be done from all of those countries and unfortunately many more. In the meantime, of course, they are entitled to their opinion and it is right that they have joined some highly democratic states that have expressed their concern about what this report shows while at the same time praising the fact that the report was done.
Would you call on China, Russia and Iran to release their own torture and human rights reports?
Yes of course. We call for that for all states, even for the very old and past abuses as well. I think the obligation to investigate, prosecute and punish including to investigate and release to the public information about what happened is customary in international law even for countries that have not signed and ratified the Convention against Torture. So all states have to do this and they ought to do this even for decades-old cases of torture. In this sense, the release by the Brazilian Truth Commission of a damning report of what happened during the military dictatorship there is a very good example that should be praised alongside the report of the Senate Committee on Intelligence.