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The U.S. is Torturing Children

Posted in 2019 Wednesday, 26 June 2019

The U.S. is Torturing Children

Today, June 26, is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Here in the U.S., survivors of torture from all over the world have sought asylum and received support and care from groups like the Center for Victims of Torture. The U.S. government even issued a statement today in which Secretary of State Pompeo, with what one presumes is a straight face, asserted: 

“The United States is unambiguous. We never conduct torture, period, full stop.”

 Sadly, as I write this, children of asylum-seekers and other immigrants have been enduring torture at the hands of the U.S. government.

This was the conclusion of Dr. Dolly Lucio Sevier, a pediatrician who lives in the Texas Rio Grande Valley. After touring and witnessing the horrific conditions at a pair of Texas detention centers holding immigrant children, she wrote in a medical report that the children were living in what amounted to “torture facilities”. She documented “extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day, [with] no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water or adequate food.” She declared that the lack of sanitation was “tantamount to intentionally causing the spread of disease.” And she concluded:

“I can’t imagine my child being there and not being broken.”

300 hundred children have been removed from one of the facilities since then, though 100 of them were apparently soon moved back; it is not known whether their circumstances have improved. While the acting head of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has announced his resignation (without acknowledging the crimes his agency is committing), it seems unlikely that in the foreseeable future there will be any real accountability for this rampant abuse, which President Trump has described as “fantastic”, at least not domestically.

Treating children like this, including the ghoulish family separation policy, is a crime against humanity, at least according to the last surviving prosecutor from the post-World War II Nuremburg trials. If the U.S. were a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC) those involved in this outrage could be sent to The Hague for trial. 

But the U.S. is not part of the ICC, and it is also, notoriously, the only country in the world that has not ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. As Americans who follow such things we have often wondered at our country’s strange refusal to participate in such widely accepted agreements, but we have to accept that the reason the U.S. opts of international crime and human rights agreements is to reserve for itself the ability to commit grave crimes and human rights abuses without consequence. 

Which it is doing now on our southern border.

The U.S. did ratify the U.N. Convention Against Torture, signed by President Reagan back in 1988. While this did not stop, for example, the abuses at Guantánamo Bay or Abu Ghraib, it has at least provided an avenue for other nations (and concerned U.S.-based advocates) to call out the U.S. government and its increasingly rogue behavior. 

The U.S. was in fact called out by the U.N. five years ago for its detention of immigrant children (as well as for the violence inflicted on children incarcerated with adults in the regular criminal justice system).

This does matter, and on this day of support for its victims, it is important to do what Dr. Sevier has done, and to call this unconscionable and ongoing abuse of children what it is: torture, period, full stop.