Manfred Nowak on Torture and the U.S.

Manfred Nowak, law professor at the University of Vienna and U.N. Special Rapporteur for torture, gives an interview (g) to the Sueddeutsche on the progress being made in combating state-sanctioned torture. 

Overall, human rights took a hit after September 11.  However, he says the situation’s becoming calmer now.  Canada and Scandinavia have the best human-rights records, Nigeria one of the worst.  There’s been progress in Indonesia, but setbacks in Russia.  And at the end of the interview, he comes to the U.S. (my translation), and minces no words: In the discussion about torture methods there’s been a lot said about so-called waterboarding [in English!] lately. Is that a torture method?

Nowak: Of course. U.S. President George W. Bush says it isn’t torture.

Nowak: He’s wrong. Officials in the U.S. Justice Department did piece together a definition of torture which says torture only exists when it causes severe psychological damage.  Mental torture would, according to this definition, only exist when people were psychically damaged for the rest of their lives.  This definition is completely at odds with international law. How would you describe the general attitude of the U.S. administration to human-rights questions?

Nowak: Under Bill Clinton, there were several positive developments, for example the Criminal Court for the Former Yugoslavia.  Under Bush, things changed a great deal — whether you look at the struggle against terrorism, the death penalty, or the International Criminal Court in the Hague.  We certainly have never before had a U.S. administration which was so set against progress in human-rights issues.  Thank God it won’t be in office much longer — then this sad chapter in America’s history will belong to the past.

3 thoughts on “Manfred Nowak on Torture and the U.S.

  1. Andrew, will there be many GJ readers who fancy torture? Will there be many who need a scholar to explain the obvious? Will there be many who need a blog to preach to the choir? To answer the last question myself: of course not, but it gives a welcome and warm fuzzy feeling – both to preacher and, ugh, preachee.

    > There’s been progress in Indonesia
    Good to hear. The province of Aceh introduced Sharia law in 2003. Contrary to early bland anouncements, it aptly applies it both to Muslims and non-believers by now. I trust this not to be the progress the professor has in mind, though fighting discrimination certainly is laudable.


  2. M. Möhling: I’d suspect that there’s a lot of people in Germany who are quick to say, “Americans are stupid.” It’s good to see that this American isn’t, and it suggests that there are more where this one came from.


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