Sen. Patrick Leahy Speaks Out Against Torture

July 8, 2013 — “If we forget the necessity of human rights, we forget that we are humans,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. (L’64), speaking at a conference here on June 26 hosted by Georgetown Law’s Human Rights Institute.

It was the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, and a conference co-sponsor, the Center for Victims of Torture, honored Leahy for his work to protect torture survivors.

Leahy said he wished there was no need for the accolade. “I have to admit that before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, if somebody had asked me if the United States was capable of having a policy of torturing prisoners of war, I would have said ‘absolutely not,’” he declared in an impassioned speech. “After all, we are a party to the Convention Against Torture. I trusted that would answer the question.”

Leahy has authored or sponsored important anti-torture and human rights legislation in the Senate, including the Leahy Law on Human Rights, the Refugee Protection Act and the Torture Victim Protection Act. In 2009, he called for the establishment of a bipartisan congressional commission to examine flawed national security policies that led to the torture of detainees by U.S. personnel after 9/11.

This week, the Senate is poised to pass an immigration reform bill that repeals a one-year filing deadline for refugees seeking asylum. “That arbitrary deadline prevented thousands of persecuted people from receiving the protection they need,” the senator said, noting that the deadline disproportionately affects women and girls who might be fleeing from the threat of genital mutilation, child marriage, rape and honor killings. “Too often the shame associated with their persecution has led them to remain silent until it is too late and the door is closed. That shame should be ours, not theirs.”

The conference, “Torture is a Weapon Against Democracy: How the United States is Working to End Torture Globally” also featured Juan E. Mendez, a former Georgetown Law adjunct professor who is now the United Nations special rapporteur on torture; Deputy Assistant Secretaries of State Daniel Baer and Paula Schriefer; Lorne Craner (G’86) of the International Republican Institute; Curt Goering (G’80) of the Center for Victims of Torture; and Ambassador Mark P. Lagon (G’91) and Jennifer Windsor of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. Photo by Chris Maddaloni.

A webcast is available here.