Skip to content
Ralph Nader > Special Features > Letter to President Obama on UN Convention Against Torture

Dear Mr. President:

We are writing to urge you to avoid the disregard for international legal obligations that condemned your predecessor.

The issue concerns investigating or prosecuting torture.

The United States ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT) in 1994. Article 12 of the CAT provides: “Each State Party shall ensure that its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction.”

Former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Richard Cheney have both openly conceded that they authorized waterboarding on at least three prisoners. Among others, Attorney General-designate Eric Holder has characterized waterboarding as torture. Susan J. Crawford, a military commission leader, also informed Bob Woodward of The Washington Post: “We [the United States] tortured [Mohammed al-Qahtani].” In addition, there have been several additional credible reports about torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and at secret prisons. See Carol D. Leonning, “The Stories of Torture Sounded Made Up. They Weren’t,” Outlook B01, The Washington Post, January 18, 2009.

The federal criminal code punishes torture in accord with the CAT. See 18 U.S.C. 2340A. The United States recently prosecuted and punished the son of Liberia’s Charles Taylor for torture perpetrated in Liberia.

The public record clearly gives reasonable ground to believe Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, and their subordinates are implicated in torture. Article 12 of the CAT thus requires that your administration conduct a “prompt and impartial investigation” of the individuals and their superiors involved in waterboarding the prisoners and in interrogating Mohammed al-Qahtani. We urge that the investigation be conducted by a nonpartisan special prosecutor appointed by the Attorney General to forestall charges of partisanship. If no investigation is forthcoming, you will have violated Article 12.

During your presidential campaign, you assailed the unilateralism of your predecessor which flouted international obligations or responsibilities. You promised change. You should not imitate former President Bush by defying Article 12 of the CAT.


Bruce Fein

Ralph Nader

cc. Hillary Clinton

Eric Holder