Reply to Russia on Department of Defense Investigations into Alleged Torture: Statement to the PC

Desks at Hofburg Congress Center's (OSCE/Mikhail Evstafiev)

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I appreciate the opportunity to respond to the statement just made by our distinguished Russian colleague.

First of all, at the outset, I would like to say that the United States is very proud of our record as a world leader in respecting, promoting, and defending human rights and the rule of law. And that it is the policy of the government, and we take the opportunity to reaffirm here today, that torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishments are prohibited at all times in all places.

In one of his first executive orders after taking office in 2009, President Obama prohibited the use of harsh interrogation techniques and ended the detention and interrogation program described in the declassified summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report.

At the end of last year, the President signed the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2016, which includes provisions codifying the key interrogation related reforms in that Executive Order into US law.

On November 7, 2015 the Secretary of Defense made a determination to recertify a number of protected photographs under the Protected National Security Documents Act of 2009. This review is required every three years and was last concluded by then Secretary Panetta in 2012. The review process considered whether disclosure of the photographs would endanger citizens of the United States, members of the U.S. Armed Forces, or employees of the U.S. government deployed outside of the United States. The Secretary of Defense also made a determination not to recertify approximately 198 photographs which means that they can be released subject to request.

This determination was made following a thorough review of the photographs and in light of recommendations from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Commander of U.S Central Command, the Commander of U.S. Africa Command, and the Commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan.

These photos come from independent criminal investigations into allegations of misconduct by U.S. personnel. The investigations substantiated approximately 14 of the allegations, while approximately 42 allegations of misconduct were unsubstantiated. From those cases with substantiated allegations, 65 service members received some form of disciplinary action.

President Obama has made very clear through Executive Order 13491, that the United States would ensure the safe, lawful and humane treatment of individuals in U.S. custody in the context of armed conflicts, consistent with the treaty obligations of the United States, including the Geneva Conventions.

The Department of Defense has fully complied with Executive Order 13491 to ensure the safe, lawful and humane treatment of individuals in U.S. custody.

If I may add, Mr. Chair. I take the distinguished Russian colleague’s raising of this issue today in good faith. And given his reminder to the U.S. delegation about the importance of the universal prohibition of torture, I would make an offer to him, and to whom ever else might want to join us, to engage as soon as possible on consultations about how we might take the draft decision on torture that was almost adopted in Belgrade and provide it to the German Chairmanship in a form that we believe could attract consensus. And I would pledge to work with him in good faith in accomplishing that objective.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

As delivered by Ambassador Daniel B. Baer to the Permanent Council, Vienna