U.N. says waterboarding should be prosecuted as torture

MEXICO CITY Fri Feb 8, 2008 11:04pm GMT

Louise Arbour, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaks during a news conference in Mexico City February 8, 2008. REUTERS/Andrew Winning

Louise Arbour, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaks during a news conference in Mexico City February 8, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Andrew Winning

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The controversial interrogation technique known as waterboarding and used by the United States qualifies as torture, the U.N. human rights chief said on Friday.

"I would have no problems with describing this practice as falling under the prohibition of torture," the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, told a news conference in Mexico City.

Arbour made her comment in response to a question about whether U.S. officials could be tried for the use of waterboarding that referred to CIA director Michael Hayden telling Congress on Tuesday his agency had used waterboarding on three detainees captured after the September 11 attacks.

Violators of the U.N. Convention against Torture should be prosecuted under the principle of 'universal jurisdiction' which allows countries to try accused war criminals from other nations, Arbour said.

"There are several precedents worldwide of states exercising their universal jurisdiction ... to enforce the torture convention and we can only hope that we will see more and more of these avenues of redress," Arbour said.

The U.S. Congress is considering banning the practice, in which prisoners are immobilized and water is poured into their breathing passages to simulate drowning.

Arbour referred to an arrest warrant issued in 1998 by a Spanish judge for former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who died in 2006, on charges of torture, murder and kidnapping in the years that followed his 1973 coup.

Latin American dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s were known to use waterboarding on political prisoners.

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Patricia Zengerle)

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