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Policymakers on Torture Take Note - Remember Pinochet

Addington, Yoo, Gonzales, and others should think carefully about their travel plans.

| Tue Nov. 15, 2005 4:00 AM EST

Before embarking on international travels, David Addington and others who are said to be closely associated with the crafting of the Bush administration's policy on the interrogation of detainees would do well to reflect on the fate of Augusto Pinochet.

The Chilean senator and former head of state was unexpectedly arrested during a visit to London on Oct. 16, 1998, at the request of a Spanish judge who sought his extradition on various charges of international criminality, including torture.

The House of Lords—Britain's upper house—ruled that the 1984 convention prohibiting torture removed any right he might have to claim immunity from the English courts and gave a green light to the continuation of extradition proceedings.

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As counsel for Human Rights Watch, I participated in that case. This allowed me to witness the case firsthand. It also gave me the opportunity to chat with Pinochet's advisers, and one conversation in particular has remained vividly at the forefront of my mind.

"It never occurred to us that the torture convention would be used to detain the senator," remarked the human rights adviser who had been involved in the decision by Pinochet and Chile to ratify the Convention Against Torture in 1988.

Pinochet spent more than a year in custody before being returned to Chile on medical grounds.

The adviser's words came back to me recently, during a debate with Professor John Yoo at the World Affairs Council of San Francisco.

Yoo, a UC Berkeley law professor, is the author of legal advice that rode roughshod over the torture convention, and contributed to at least one opinion that ignored the well-established international definition of torture.

These opinions are plainly inconsistent with the requirements of international law. They may have opened a door into the forbidden world of torture, and were perhaps offered as part of a policy on the part of the U.S. administration to allow more aggressive interrogation techniques in the "war on terror."

Yoo was well aware of the torture convention. However, when I raised the Pinochet precedent in our debate, he seemed slightly taken aback.

It seems he may not have turned his mind to the possibility that a legal adviser associated with a policy that permits torture contrary to international legal obligations could be subject to international investigation.

How might this happen?

The United States has led the world in promoting international human rights laws. It played a leading role in negotiating a global convention that would outlaw the use of torture in any circumstances.

The convention sets up an elaborate enforcement mechanism. The United States and the 140- plus other countries that have joined the convention agree to take certain actions if any person who has committed torture is found on their territory.

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