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Milena Sterio

Professor and Associate Dean Milena Sterio published “Torture Is Always Illegal, No Matter What Results It May Produce,” on Intlawgrrls, a blog authored by women who teach and work in international law, policy and practice, regarding the recently released Senate Intelligence Committee report ("Torture Report") on enhanced interrogation techniques used by the C.I.A. since 9/11.  Sterio, the Charles R. Emrick Jr. - Calfee Halter & Griswold Professor of Law, is a leading expert on international law, and in particular, maritime piracy.  Serving as a maritime piracy law expert, she has participated in meetings of the United Nations Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia. and is also a member of the Piracy Expert Group.

In the post (excerpts below), Sterio argues that the interrogation techniques used amount to torture under both international law – the Convention Against Torture, and various courts' interpretations of this Convention – as well as domestic law.  In addition, Sterio finds that the question of whether enhanced interrogation techniques produced valuable intelligence results is irrelevant, because even if such techniques did produce excellent intelligence information, such techniques are still illegal because they amount to torture, and should never be utilized.


“Torture Is Always Illegal, No Matter What Results It May Produce”

The recently released Senate Intelligence Committee report on C.I.A. interrogation practices has sparked tremendous academic and political commentary. Sadly, much of said commentary focused on the wrong question – whether enhanced interrogation techniques used by the C.I.A. yielded valuable intelligence information, enabling the United States to thwart future terrorist attacks and to capture senior Al Qaeda leaders, such as Bin Laden.  This question would be relevant only if the enhanced interrogation techniques did not amount to torture; because they did, the only appropriate response is to acknowledge the past and to accept responsibility, including imposing criminal liability on those responsible for the use of such practices.

The so-called “Torture Report” details numerous abuses at the hands of the C.I.A., including subjecting detainees to beatings, stress positions, isolation, sleep deprivation, harsh environmental conditions, rectal feedings, and water boarding (or “near drownings” in the case of at least one detainee), for weeks and/or months at a time.  It is unquestionable that these practices in the aggregate amounted to torture under both international and domestic law.

What the United States can and should do now is to embrace responsibility for past abuses by bringing those responsible for torture to justice.  President Obama, most likely for political reasons, has stated that it was time to move on.  But many others have, rightly so, called for prosecutions, both because the United States has a legal duty to do so under the Convention Against Torture, and because unless past violations are adequately punished, in the words of Human Rights Watch executive director, Kenneth Roth, “torture will remain a ‘policy option’ for future presidents.”  Torture is illegal; it should not have been utilized by the C.I.A. in the past nor should it ever become a future practice or policy.

Click here to read the full blog post.

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