No Comment — December 1, 2007, 11:22 am

A Nation That Tortures

Is America a nation that tortures? The question is being asked all around the world. It’s not a matter of idle speculation. Under international treaties, which many nations, not being liberated by the law-what-law?mantra of the Neocons, treat very seriously, there are specific prohibitions about cooperation with nations which torture. In particular, there is article 3 of the Convention Against Torture, which forbids any state party to return a prisoner to a nation where he is likely to be tortured.

In 2006, I had an off-the-record discussion with the chief law enforcement officer of one of America’s most important allies. Having read the torture memoranda out of the Justice Department, and having seen the reports issued by the Department of the Army dealing with abuses in Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantánamo, I asked, is your Government in a position to engage in prisoner exchanges with the Americans or to allow American interrogators unfettered access to persons in your Government’s custody? He responded in a manner that showed the question had been studied carefully. “I can assure you that we take our obligations under article 3 very seriously. We will not speak publicly about this, but of course we have terminated cooperation with the United States in ways that would violate article 3. And of course we have reached the only possible conclusion, which is that the United States has embraced torture as a matter of formal policy.” This is a nation which continues to be one of our dwindling number of allies, but it faces increasingly steep challenges in cooperating while it complies with the requirements of law.

And this judgment is a very broad one—now shared almost universally by America’s allies. We don’t have to consider what the enemies think.

More evidence of this phenomenon in a very important decision handed down on Thursday by Canada’s Federal Court. Professor Jaya Ramji-Nogales, who’s been patiently tracking the matter, furnishes a report:

Yesterday, the Canadian Federal Court issued an opinion in the case Canadian Council for Refugees, Canadian Council of Churches, Amnesty International, and John Doe v. Her Majesty The Queen. This case challenges the “Safe Third Country Agreement” between Canada and the United States that came into force in December 2004. This agreement provides that, with limited exceptions, individuals who first enter either Canada or the United States and then attempt to cross a land border into the other country in order to lodge an asylum claim must be returned to claim asylum in the first country they entered. In assessing the constitutionality of the agreement, the Canadian Court found that the United States does not comply adequately with Article 33 of the UN Refugee Convention, which prohibits return to persecution, or Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture, which prohibits return to torture — specifically naming the Maher Arar case as an example of the United States’ failure to protect.

As one of the experts who described the ways in which U.S. asylum law (in particular, the one-year filing deadline) violates international law, I am proud to note that the court found “the Applicant’s experts to be more credible, both in terms of their expertise and the sufficiency, directness and logic of their reports” and “more objective and dispassionate in their analysis and report” than the government’s experts. Of particular note, the Court found that “it would be unreasonable to conclude that the one-year bar, as it is applied in the U.S., is consistent with the Convention Against Torture and the Refugee Convention” and that this bar “has a disproportionate impact on gender and sexual orientation claims” for asylum. The Court also found that women making asylum claims based on domestic violence are not sufficiently protected under U.S. law. The long decision is well worth a read, and while it bodes well for asylum seekers in Canada (assuming that the judge’s final order, after further submissions, follows this opinion, and that the decision survives appeal), it reads as a damning critique of the treatment of those seeking protection in the United States.

That’s the long version. Here’s the short version: “We do not torture?” That claim has been formally reviewed by a court and found to be a lie.

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

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Artwork by Imre Kinszki © Imre Kinszki Estate
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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

It would be too difficult to attend school as a single mother of two, Ashley knew. She had made an appointment for three weeks from now at the nearest abortion clinic, in Billings, Montana, 318 miles away. But just a week and a half ago, her husband had said he wanted to get back together and offered to raise the child as his own. Was it a sign that she was meant to continue the pregnancy? As a rule, Ashley approached her problems with resolve. She was capable and tough; she liked shooting guns and lifting weights. She kept track of her stats and checked off her goals as she achieved them one by one. Yet the dilemma before her had shaken her confidence. She leaned back and turned to watch the ultrasound screen. The black-and-white image danced. A sharp, fast thumping emerged from the machine. As Degen removed the wand, Ashley wiped the corner of her eye.

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