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United Nations panel asks U.S. to clarify torture policy

United Nations wants U.S. to definitively state there is no conceivable military conflict that justifies torture; Senate Democrats urge Obama to "put the dark chapter of the Bush administration’s torture program behind us."

By Matt Bradwell
United Nations panel asks U.S. to clarify torture policy
President Barack Obama. UPI/Kevin Dietsch | License Photo

GENEVA, Switzerland, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- The U.N. is questioning top U.S. officials on whether the government believes torture bans apply to military personal operating outside U.S. borders.

The two-day hearings seek to attach definitive language to U.S. torture policy, which exempted "aliens overseas" from torture bans under the Bush administration and has not been rewritten despite President Barack Obama's public promises to do so.

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Addressing the U.N. panel in Geneva, State Department legal adviser Mary McLeod admitted the U.S. military "did not always live up to our own values," but stressed the State Department is actively engaged in "ongoing efforts to determine why lapses occurred."

In 2009, Obama signed an executive order barring torture. However, the U.N. and humanitarian organizations want the U.S. to clearly state it's not leaving open the possibility for torture, regardless of the international military situation. It remains unclear if the Obama administration will use the hearings to launch an attempt at formal policy reform.

"Nine years ago, then-Senator Obama used strong words in support of legislation prohibiting U.S. officials from using torture, saying it is, 'morally reprehensible and has no place in this world,'" wrote Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo, in a statement urging the President to condemn future torture.

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"Now is the time for the president to reaffirm this position and unequivocally state that the U.S. prohibition on torture has no geographic limitations."

In addition to Udall, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy and Majority Whip Dick Durbin wrote to the president, encouraging to him "to promote a broad understanding of the extraterritorial reach of that part of the Convention."

"It is crucial that the United States signals to the world that we have put the dark chapter of the Bush administration's torture program behind us and are not seen as attempting to leave open the possibility of using so-called 'enhanced' interrogation techniques ever again."

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