Would it surprise you to know that torture of US Citizens on US soil is not a crime under the US Federal Criminal Code? This does not mean that torture of US citizens does not occur; instead it is an indication that there are inadequate legal means to report and address torture cases in the USA. There are several reasons for this deficiency, despite the United States' obligation under the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT) to take necessary action to assure domestic implementation and to provide effective remedies to victims of violations. When the U.S.A. ratified CAT, a reservation was added by the U.S. Senate suggesting that its provisions were not "self-executing," and therefore could not be enforced domestically by victims of violations. The Human Rights Committee of the United Nations has suggested that a "non-self executing" reservation in regards to CAT runs directly counter to the underlying necessity for international human rights treaties to be enforceable domestically. Thus the U.S. government's non-self executing claim makes the need for specific implementing national legislation on domestic torture even greater.
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All human rights violations deserve to remedied and prevented and although problems in the USA do not reach the same level as abuses in other countries, the US should fulfill its responsibilities to be in compliance with CAT. Take for example, the subject of recent Congressional hearings held by Congressman George Miller on abuse of children in residential treatment centers. The Congressional investigation showed that abuse of minor children while held captive in teen rehabilitation centers in the USA still occurs. This is in spite of decades of reports and even previous Congressional reports on SEED and Straight Inc., where thousands of children came forward to report cruel, degrading and abusive treatment which often reached the level of torture and even led to over 40 suicides. Deaths and child abuse in these "residential treatment" programs was recently documented by Greg Kutz, Managing Director, Forensic Audits and Special Investigations, Govt. Accountability Office who testifies to the Committee on Education and Labor. See Video A and Video B
Congressman George Miller (D-California, 7th Congressional District), Chairman, House Education and Labor Committee stated that: "This nightmare has remained an open secret for years. Sporadic news accounts of specific incidents have built a record that should never have been ignored, but shamefully was. The federal government has completely failed to grasp the urgency of this situation."
In addition adequate compensation and treatment of torture victims is needed in order for the USA to be consistent with the requirement of Article 14 of CAT, but again additional implementing national legislative action is still required. Although victims should be able to be compensated by their abusers by seeking damages in tort claims, this avenue is limited to torture happening abroad and does not apply to domestic torture victims. Thus there is inadequate legal means to address the equally important needs of assuring compensation for victims of torture experienced in the U.S. Thus decades later the SEED and Straight Inc. abuses were reported, the victims of this horrendous abuse are still not compensated.
Gender based physical and sexual abuse is all too common an occurrence in prisons, state institutions, rehabilitation centers, and other places of confinement. Thus rape, sexual assault, sexual taunting, and unwarranted visual surveillance of female prisoners in showers and bathrooms commonly occur. There have been inadequate criminal sanctions as well as inadequate polices to prevent abuse. The victims are more likely to be punished than the abusers. Victims of persecution, especially torture and rape, often need time and medical or psychological treatment before they can tell their stories. Lack of understanding of the psychological consequences of sexual torture leads to inadequate or inappropriate services by social service and mental health professionals which often aggravates problems associated with traumatic stress syndrome.
Extended and indefinite use of restraints, long-term isolation, and the involuntary administration of dangerous chemical treatments in institutional settings can occur to those who are mentally disabled and they can also be exposed prohibited forms of punishment, intimidation, coercion and discrimination that cannot be justified by medical or safety considerations. In addition considerable evidence recently has surfaced that the U.S. government has conducted or permitted "scientific" experiments on human subjects without their knowledge or consent and without full disclosure.
It is true that in spite of the US signing and ratifying the UN Convention against Torture (CAT), torture as a distinct crime done by governmental officials in the USA is not punishable under US law. Although torture would clearly be a violation of someone's constitutional rights, there are no laws either state or federal which address police torture. The U.S. government has failed to bring charges against its own officials when implicated in torture and other major human rights abuses. This reality came into sharp focus when a former Chicago police commander, Jon Burge, did not face torture charges for alleged acts of brutality including a mock execution of a detainee, beatings to coerce confessions, using a cattle prod on one suspect's genitals, and burning other prisoners on a hot radiator. Mayor Daley, who was the prosecutor at that time, did not prosecute despite mounting evidence regarding Mr. Burge's systemic abuse of prisoners. From the 1980's till he was fired in 1993, Mr. Burge and other police officers allegedly tortured 110 men. Mistreatment or abuse of prisoners is considered battery by the current laws because in the state of Illinois there is no statute that criminalizes acts of torture by police officers.