Sen. Leahy: Mass incarceration and indefinite detention 'tragic failures,' like segregation
Patrick Leahy (Screenshot)

In a wide-ranging speech at the Human Rights First Summit last week, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) spoke out against indefinite detention, mass incarceration, the landmine treaty, torture, and drones.

"As we all know, the history of the United States has been one of groundbreaking human rights leadership, and tragic failures," he said. "Certainly the Bill of Rights was a monumental achievement that inspired the Universal Declaration and the freedoms enshrined in the constitutions of many other nations."

But the United States has often fallen short of its ideals, Leahy added, citing "the internment of Japanese citizens during World War II... the segregation laws upheld by our own Supreme Court, or the fact we've been unable to close Guantanamo or to end mass incarceration."

The Vermont senator said he authored legislation in 1997 that prohibited the United States from providing training and equipment to foreign nations that kill innocent civilians and commit atrocities. That law, he claimed, was not being enforced.

Leahy also railed against the "ill-conceived" detention and interrogation policies adopted after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"Before 9/11, I doubt any of us could have imagined that torture, which Members of Congress of both parties condemn when used by repressive governments, would be defended by top U.S. officials as a legitimate practice in the 21st Century. We must never again allow torture by our country to be cloaked in euphemisms like 'enhanced interrogation techniques,' or justified by twisted and flawed legal analyses that run counter to our core morals and values."

He said there was no justification for indefinitely detaining terrorism suspects in Guantanamo Bay.

"Countries that respect the rule of law and human rights do not lock away prisoners indefinitely without charge or trial."

Leahy said the use of drones had killed civilians and also lacked transparency. He questioned whether drone strikes complied with international law.

"The United States for years conducted lethal operations using drones in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen, some of which have killed or wounded innocent civilians and inflamed the population."

Watch video, uploaded to YouTube, below: