The use of torture is prohibited by the UN convention against torture and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment.
But many countries still employ methods of torture, which include beatings, waterboarding, electric shock, rape, sexual humiliation, sleep deprivation and prolonged solitary confinement.
To increase global awareness of the atrocities of torture, the UN in 1997 designated June 26 as International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.
2022 marks the 25th anniversary of the proclamation, which strives for the eradication of torture throughout the world.
“Given the consequences to individuals who have been tortured and to the fabric of a society that tolerates torture, it is of the utmost importance to take note of the victims of the torture,” said professor Amos Guiora, who teaches Global Perspectives on Counterterrorism at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law in Salt Lake City.
Guiora served 20 years in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and held senior positions, including legal advisor, judge and prosecutor in the ranks, which puts him front and center on questions regarding limits of interrogation.
“It is safe to assume that somewhere in the world … that an individual is being tortured,” Guiora told Anadolu Agency via email from Tel Aviv. “And therefore drawing attention to this is of the utmost importance.”
“Torture is occurring in the context of the Russia-Ukraine war,” Guiora continued. “And there are consistent, persistent reports of torture of the Muslim minority in China.”
Guiora said historically in the US, “torture was associated with interrogation of African Americans in the Deep South.”
However, in recent decades, the US has been publicly linked to torture against prisoners detained during America’s War on Terror.
“In the aftermath of 9/11, the Bush Administration established a torture based interrogation policy,” he said. “The so-called Bybee Memo … gave a ‘green light’ for the US to torture those detained … whether in GITMO (Guantanamo Bay, Cuba), black sites, Abu Ghraib (Iraq), or as alleged on US Navy ships.”
The Bybee Memo is one in a series of memos by the George W. Bush administration that permitted torture of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.
Between May 2004 and April 2006, the Pentagon doled out punishments for violations at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, removing 17 soldiers and officers from duty and charging 11 soldiers with maltreatment, aggravated assault and battery. Soldiers were court-martialed, convicted, sentenced to a military prison and dishonorably discharged from service.
But questions remain regarding what other US agencies were involved in the mistreatment of prisoners.
“I met with an individual who was present during waterboarding in Iraq,” said Guiora. “(The) common assumption, it was primarily CIA with support provided by military intelligence but per those who have commented on the topic, the belief is largely CIA.”
The indefinite detention of prisoners post 9/11 at Guantanamo Bay without trial was also considered a major breach of human rights by Amnesty International. But the camp remains open two decades later, despite President Joe Biden’s declaration to shut down the facility before he leaves office.
“The primary question that has arisen at GITMO is whether torture based confessions are admissible,” said Guiora. “The clear ‘line in the sand’ was drawn by my good friend, COL (RET) Moe Davis who was the Chief Military Prosecutor in GITMO who told his superiors, ‘if ordered to submit as evidence torture based confession I will resign my commission’ … when so ordered, he indeed resigned. Moe saved the day for American decency and integrity,” said Guiora.
But he said consequences for those involved in torture transgressions did not necessarily equate to justice.
“At the end of the day neither Bybee or Professor John Yoo (the author of the memo) were held accountable,” said Guiora. “Neither were Secretary of Defense (Donald) Rumsfeld or President Bush which means, unfortunately, lack of accountability which obviously sets a terrible precedent.”
“It was a travesty when (Jay) Bybee (of the memo fame) was confirmed by the US Senate to be a federal judge which he is today in Nevada,” said Guiora. “Assume the same regarding private contractors like Blackwater, but to me (it is) unclear (the) extent they were involved in actual interrogations, though little doubt they did so-called ‘dirty work’ for CIA-US Military.”
Regardless of which country is being scrutinized for torture -- proven or unproven -- International Day in Support of Victims of Torture focuses on speaking out against torture as well as honoring and supporting victims and survivors of torture throughout the world.
“It is important for a torture victim to understand that the rest of the world cares,” said Hassan Bility, former Liberian journalist and human rights activist who was tortured. “That the United Nations, representing everybody, supports you, wants you to get well, wants torture to stop.”
More than 50,000 victims and their families are helped every year by programs supported by the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture.
Organizations around the world hold educational conferences and peaceful rallies to remember those who have suffered injustices of torture in commemoration of the day.
“Justice means bringing peace to the souls that were killed and tortured,” said Khaled Rawas, a Syrian accused of participating in political demonstrations against the government and who was subsequently beaten and forced to confess under torture.
“It’s about saving humanity inside each one of us,” he said.