International Law and the Constitution

  • March 24, 2011
    The United States and Torture
    Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse
    Marjorie Cohn, editor

    By Marjorie Cohn, a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, past president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Cohn edited The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration and Abuse, a collection of essays.
    Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is facing court-martial for leaking military reports and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks, is being held in solitary confinement in Quantico brig in Virginia. Each night, he is forced to strip naked and sleep in a gown made of coarse material. He has been made to stand naked in the morning as other inmates walked by and looked. As journalist Lance Tapley documents in his chapter on torture in the supermax prisons in The United States and Torture, solitary confinement can lead to hallucinations and suicide; it is considered to be torture. Manning's forced nudity amounts to humiliating and degrading treatment, in violation of U.S. and international law.

    Nevertheless, President Barack Obama defended Manning's treatment, saying, "I've actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures . . . are appropriate. They assured me they are." Obama's deference is reminiscent of President George W. Bush, who asked "the most senior legal officers in the U.S. government" to review the interrogation techniques. "They assured me they did not constitute torture," Bush said.

    The order for Manning's nudity apparently followed what he described as a sarcastic comment he made to guards after their repeated harassment of him regarding how he was to salute them. Manning said that if he were intent on strangling himself, he could use his underwear or flip-flops.

    "In my 40 years of hospital psychiatric practice, I've never heard of something like this," said Dr. Steven Sharfstein, a former president of the American Psychiatric Association. "In some very unusual circumstances, when people are intensely suicidal, you might put them in a hospital gown. ... But it's very, very unusual to be in that kind of suicide watch for this long a period of time."

  • March 9, 2011
    Guest Post

    By Martha F. Davis Associate Dean for Clinical and Experiential Education and Faculty Director of the Program on Human Rights and Global Economy, Northeastern University School of Law. Davis filed an amicus brief in Flores-Villar v. United States on behalf of Equality NOW, Human Rights Watch and other groups.
    As Americans mark the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day (IWD) on March 8, 2011, what better way to celebrate than eliminating the few remaining legal vestiges of women's historic second-class citizenship? And even better, why not do it in a way that helps men, too, by reaffirming their important role as parents and caretakers?

    There is no doubt that we've come a long way in a century. At the time of the first official IWD in 1911, women in the United States could not vote, were barred from serving in the military except as nurses, and lost their U.S. citizenship for the duration of the union if they married a foreign national. Now, of course, circumstances are much different. But there are some stubborn, lingering messages about women's civic roles. We can vote, but women are still barred from some combat positions in the military - positions that often serve as a step up to greater leadership roles. Women can enlist, but only men are required to register and participate in the Selective Service System, and are sometimes threatened with denial of educational loans if they fail to do so. Notably, while even Harvard Law School turned away the ROTC because of the military's discriminatory policies on gays, plain old sex discrimination in the military has not triggered such public outcry. There is tacit acceptance of the message that men are the primary warriors and heroes and that women's proper place is on the home front.

    This persistent stereotype also informs a venerable law currently being challenged before the U.S. Supreme Court in Flores-Villar v. U.S. Under that law, the U.S. citizen father of a foreign-born, out-of-wedlock child must jump through a series of hoops in order to transmit U.S. citizenship to his child, including providing proof that he resided in the U.S. for at least five years after his 14th birthday but before the child's birth. A U.S. citizen mother under the same circumstances must simply prove one year of residence at any time prior to the child's birth.