Earlier this year, as the new Democratic Congress gathered, I highlighted 10 pieces of legislation that I believe deserve to be passed – they would certainly help put our nation back on a path toward a more perfect union. One of the ten bills featured was Representative Ed Markey’s Torture Outsourcing Prevention Act which was reintroduced on Tuesday as H.R. 1352.
In the last session of Congress the bill had 33 original cosponsors. There are now 45 original cosponsors of the new bill, and on Wednesday, Rep. Tom Lantos – Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs – also signed on.
“I feel a rising optimism that we can end this repugnant and counterproductive practice of outsourcing torture during the 110th Congress,” Markey said.
Let’s hope he’s right. The practice of sending individuals detained by our government off to other countries that torture – known in Orwellian speak as “extraordinary rendition” – flies in the face of the international Convention Against Torture, ratified by the United States in 1994, and the 1998 Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act. It has led to the reprehensible and tragic cases of Maher Arar, Khaled El-Masri and Abu Omar – and in all likelihood the torture of many other innocent victims that we have not yet heard from.
Markey’s legislation would bar the transfer of any individuals in US custody to any country known to use torture. It would also prohibit the use of “diplomatic assurances” – as the Bush administration claims to have received from Syria in the case of Arar’s transfer – as the basis for determining that the threat of torture does not exist. The legislation would require the Secretary of State to submit to Congress a list of countries that engage in torture and forbid the transfer of any individual to those countries (unless the Secretary of State certifies that a country no longer practices torture and a mechanism is in place to assure that the person transferred will not be tortured).
With over 1000 CIA-operated “ghost flights” over Europe reported by the European Parliament; black sites used by the CIA; and cases against CIA agents for the abduction of innocent civilians now being prepared by both Germany and Italy – passing the Torture Outsourcing Prevention Act is a necessary step towards restoring our commitment to human rights and our standing in the international community.