The family of Jose Padilla, an American citizen captured on U.S. soil and held without charge by the military as an enemy combatant, filed a petition (PDF) with the Organization of American States (OAS) on Tuesday seeking a human rights review of Padilla’s treatment.
“[America’s international] Obligations are long established,” American Civil Liberties Union attorney Steven Watt told Raw Story. “Everyone has an absolute right to be free from torture or prolonged, arbitrary detention, and those are just some of the abuses that Padilla was subjected to, which the United States hasn’t been held accountable for to date.”
Padilla and his mother, Estella Lebron, have maintained for years that he was tortured while in U.S. custody, including being forced into stress positions, being kept awake for days at a time and being fed LSD and PCP against his will. The Bush administration ultimately claimed he was engaged in a plot to blow up a so-called “dirty bomb,” but he was never charged with such a conspiracy. After three years in military custody, he was moved into the civilian system and convicted of planning to murder, kidnap and maim people overseas.
Padilla’s appeal directly challenged then-President George W. Bush’s power to declare anyone an “enemy combatant,” a key power granted to the executive branch by the Authorization for the Use of Military Force authorized by Congress a week after the attacks of September 11, 2001. That appeal went all the way to the Supreme Court, but the Justices declined to hear it. Courts have since admitted that his treatment likely amounted to torture, but no Bush-era officials have been held accountable because the “harsh interrogation techniques” they crafted were not well defined under the law at that time.
“The torture memos that John Yoo and other senior members of the Bush administration, they really opened the way for the type of treatment that Mr. Padilla was subjected to,” Watt added. “More than the congressional authorization [for use of force], the Bush administration believed that the president has an inherent right to torture people.”
In a sense, Padilla’s appeal to the OAS effectively amounts to asking south America to shame the U.S. for treating one of their own citizens in such a way.
“The United States has systematically barred Mr. Padilla and Ms. Lebron from obtaining a remedy for the torture and other abuses perpetrated against them through interference with Mr. Padilla’s access to counsel, avoidance of review on the merits, and the unwarranted dismissals of their civil claims,” the complaint reads. “Under Article XVIII of the American Declaration, every person has a right to turn to the courts to remedy abuses perpetrated against them, and States have an obligation to provide remedies for those abuses.”
The petition asks that the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights conduct its own investigation to determine whether Padilla’s treatment rises to the level of a violation of the American Declaration of Rights and Duties of Man, a non-binding treaty signed by the U.S. in 1948, but never ratified by Congress.
In other words, even if the OAS takes up an investigation and finds in Padilla’s favor, the best they can do for him is recommend that the U.S. apologize.
“It’s a step to highlight on the international level and to hold the United States accountable to its international obligations,” Watt insisted. “The commission, if it finds that there was violations of international law, on particularly torture and detention, then they’ll make their findings and recommendations available to the United States. What Padilla is thinking, first and foremost, is an explanation as to why he was singled out for such treatment, and an apology. Those are two acts the commission can recommend following an investigation.”
“No human being deserves what happened to our family, and I will continue to work for my son and for justice as long as I’m breathing,” Lebron added. “As a mother, I want to be sure this never happens to anyone else. This petition may be my last chance.”
Updated with additional quotes.