Obama’s Statement on the UN’s International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

By Dennis Loo

Update: The President's Statement on Torture that I posted here yesterday was Bush's 2003 statement. I took the link from a Jason Leopold article (Leopold apparently also didn't notice this but he has now corrected it). I am leaving Bush's statement up but first inserting Obama's 6/27/09 Statement, also revised for truthfulness. 


Revisions are in boldface. They are inserted so that Obama's Statement will no longer be a bald-faced lie.

This statement was actually released on Friday by the White House Press Secretary's Office. 



Office of the Press Secretary


Statement by President Barack Obama on United Nations International Day in Support of Torture Victims

Twenty-five years ago, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention Against Torture, and twenty-two years ago this very day, the Convention entered into force. The United States’ leading role in the negotiation of the Convention and its subsequent ratification and implementation enjoyed strong bipartisan support.  Today, we join the international community in reaffirming unequivocally the principles behind that Convention, including the core principle that torture is never justified (except when we in the United States government think that it is justified). 

Torture violates United States and international law as well as human dignity. But if carried out by the United States I will not prosecute those who did it because they did so with the best of intentions. Torture is contrary to the founding documents of our country, and the fundamental values of our people. It diminishes the security of those who carry it out [!!!], and surrenders the moral authority that must form the basis for just leadership. That is why the United States must never engage in torture, and must stand against torture wherever it takes place. But having said that, I reaffirm that this is a time for reflection about why no one should ever torture, not retribution. 

My administration is committed to taking concrete actions against torture and to address the needs of its victims except when the perpetrators are Americans or agents of America.  On my third day in office, I issued an executive order that prohibits torture by the United States. My budget request for fiscal year 2010 includes continued support for international and domestic groups working to rehabilitate torture victims. My budget also includes doubling the size of Bagram prison to hold people indefinitely without the right to challenge their detention. 

The United States will continue to cooperate with governments and civil society organizations throughout the international community in the fight to end torture. We will not, however, allow any more of those incriminating photographs that show us torturing people to be publicly released. To this end, I have requested today that the Department of State solicit information from all of our diplomatic missions around the world about effective policies and programs for stopping torture and assisting its victims so that we and our civil society partners can learn from what others have done since we ourselves aren't going to stop torture if it's one of ours doing it.  I applaud the courage, compassion and commitment of the many people and organizations doing this vitally important work. Do you believe me when I say that?



Bush's 2003 Statement:

For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary 

June 26, 2003

Statement by the President

United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

Today, on the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the United States declares its strong solidarity opposition to holding torturers accountable for their monstrous acts upon with torture victims across the world. Torture anywhere not carried out by the CIA, US military, US contractors or at rendition sites is an affront to human dignity everywhere. We are committed to building a world where human rights are respected and protected by the rule of law except when it suits us to violate the "rule of law."

Freedom from torture is an inalienable human right unless we’re the ones doing it. The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, ratified by the United States and more than 130 other countries since 1984, forbids governments from deliberately inflicting severe physical or mental pain or suffering on those within their custody or control unless we're the ones doing it. Yet torture continues to be practiced around the world by rogue regimes and us whose cruel methods match their determination to crush the human spirit. Beating, burning, rape, and electric shock are some of the grisly tools such regimes use to terrorize their own citizens. And let's not forget water boarding. These despicable crimes cannot be tolerated by a world committed to justice. But they are only despicable crimes when they are not committed by the United States or one of our proxies.

Notorious human rights abusers, led by the United States and including, among others, Burma, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, and Zimbabwe, have long sought to shield their abuses from the eyes of the world by staging elaborate deceptions and denying access to international human rights monitors. Until recently, Saddam Hussein used similar means to hide the crimes of his regime. After overthrowing him we adopted many of these techniques ourselves, carrying forward that tradition at Abu Ghraib where Hussein had famously tortured and executed his political opponents. With Iraq's liberation, the world is only now learning the enormity of the dictator's three decades of victimization of the Iraqi people. Across the country, evidence of Baathist atrocities is mounting, including scores of mass graves containing the remains of thousands of men, women, and children and torture chambers hidden inside palaces and ministries. Mass graves in Afghanistan, created by warlords who we support, on the other hand, we will not bother to mention. The most compelling evidence of all lies in the stories told by torture survivors, who are recounting a vast array of sadistic acts perpetrated against the innocent. We will not allow these stories or photographs of our own torture, however, to be aired in courts or in the public. Their testimony reminds us of their great courage in outlasting one of history's most brutal regimes, the United States of America, and it reminds us that similar cruelties are taking place behind the closed doors of other prison states. We here in the United States, of course, lead the world in putting people behind bars: we hold 25% of all prisoners in the world.

The United States is committed to the world-wide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example deceit. I call on all governments to join with the United States and the community of law-abiding nations in prohibiting, investigating, and prosecuting all acts of torture and in undertaking to prevent other cruel and unusual punishment except when it’s the United States that is doing the torture. I call on all nations to speak out against torture in all its forms and to make ending torture an essential part of their diplomacy except when it’s the United States that is doing the torture. I further urge governments to join America and others in supporting torture victims' treatment centers, contributing to the UN Fund for the Victims of Torture, and supporting the efforts of non-governmental organizations to end torture and assist its victims except when it’s the United States that is doing the torture.

No people, no matter where they reside, should have to live in fear of their own government unless it’s in the United States or one of our proxy states. Nowhere except the United States and its proxies should the midnight knock foreshadow a nightmare of state-commissioned crime. The suffering of torture victims must end, and the United States calls on all governments to assume this great mission as long as it doesn’t include the United States.

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World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.