Under U.S. Law Torture is Always Illegal

Why John Yoo and Other Top Administration Lawyers Should be Investigated for War Crimes

By MARJORIE COHN | Counterpunch, May 6, 2008

What does torture have in common with genocide, slavery, and wars of aggression? They are all jus cogens. Jus cogens is Latin for “higher law” or “compelling law.” This means that no country can ever pass a law that allows torture. There can be no immunity from criminal liability for violation of a jus cogens prohibition.

The United States has always prohibited the use of torture in our Constitution, laws executive statements and judicial decisions. We have ratified three treaties that all outlaw torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. When the United States ratifies a treaty, it becomes part of the Supreme Law of the Land under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.

The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, says, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture.”

Whether someone is a POW or not, he must always be treated humanely; there are no gaps in the Geneva Conventions. He must be protected against torture, mutilation, cruel treatment, and outrages upon personal dignity, particularly humiliating and degrading treatment under, Common Article 3.

In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court rejected the Bush administration’s argument that Common Article 3 doesn’t cover the prisoners at Guantánamo. Justice Kennedy wrote that violations of Common Article 3 are war crimes.

We have federal laws that criminalize torture.

The War Crimes Act punishes any grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, as well as any violation of Common Article 3. That includes torture, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, and inhuman, humiliating or degrading treatment.

The Torture Statute provides for life in prison, or even the death penalty if the victim dies, for anyone who commits, attempts, or conspires to commit torture outside the United States.

Continued . . .

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