Last Updated Wed, 07 Dec 2005 17:39:09 EST
The United States has made a clear, direct, unequivocal statement about the use of torture. Its official policy now is to honour the United Nations ban on cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, not just at home, but around the world as well.
* INDEPTH: US Security
Condoleeza Rice (File photo)
Questions about torture, secret prisons and mysterious CIA flights have been dogging U.S. Secretary of State Condaleezza Rice for months and helped prompt her visit this week to European allies, who have expressed concern over the reports.
The White House has tried to argue that rules against torture don't apply beyond U.S. soil, in places like Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or Afghanistan. But on Wednesday that all changed.
Speaking in Kiev, Rice made a definitive statement. "Those obligations [against the use of torture] extend to U.S. personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the United States or outside of the United States," she said.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said it was "about time." "Shame on us that it took so long for the administration" to make the determination not to use torture, she said.
A Democratic Senator called Rice's statement an "almost total reversal of U.S. policy."
Ivo Daalder a foreign policy expert at the Brookings Institution said Rice "is now saying the thing that the administration has not wanted to say for four years, which is that when Americans have in their possession non-Americans believed or thought to be terrorists, they will be treated humanely."
Rice's statement set off a confusing reaction within the U.S. government.
Prisoners in Guantanamo, Cuba (CP file photo)
On the one hand, White House spokesman Scott McLellan called it nothing new. "Is this existing policy? As I stated earlier, yes it is existing policy."
But at the State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said Rice's statement "is a statement of policy and it's been the U.S. policy ... at least since the secretary said it."
Rice was hardly definitive and there are still plenty of loopholes such as what is the definition of cruel and will the rules apply to foreigners hired by the U.S.
But her statement should please the U.S. allies and it may signal that the Bush administration has resigned itself to accepting a ban on torture that the Congress is about to enact.
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