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October 29, 2014

Obama under Pressure on Torture

President Obama has come under fire this week from Nobel laureates and a group of retired generals to back up his position on torture. Though Obama signed an executive order banning torture by all U.S. forces in 2009, some of his recent action (or inaction) is calling into question his commitment to close the door on torture.

Between dragging his feet in the fight over redactions to the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA torture program to potentially affirming a Bush-era interpretation of the U.N. Convention Against Torture, Obama’s legacy on torture is far from secure.

Retired Generals Joseph Hoar and Charles Krulak, co-chairs of a nonpartisan group of more than 50 retired generals and admirals who oppose torture, sent Obama a letter regarding the CAT treaty. “After 9/11, our government undermined the rule of law by claiming that the foundational global treaty banning torture—signed under President Reagan and overwhelmingly ratified by the United States Senate—does not apply to U.S. conduct beyond our borders, thus breaking rank with decades of bipartisan consensus on torture,” they wrote. “Next month in Geneva you have a chance to reassert U.S. global leadership on torture. We urge you to do exactly that.”

A group of Nobel laureates, including Desmond Tutu and President José Ramos-Horta, urged Obama to release the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report so that the American public and international community can see the truth about CIA torture. They also called for the closure of the prison camp in Guantanamo and a recommitment to the CAT treaty.

Both groups acknowledged that the United States has a place as a global leader on torture—but whether it leads America into the light or back to the dark side is still an open question.