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Debate on House Floor over Pitts Anti-Torture Amendment to H.R. 4754

Location: Washington, DC

Debate on House Floor over Pitts Anti-Torture Amendment to H.R. 4754


Mr. PITTS. Mr. Chairman, I offer an amendment.

The CHAIRMAN. The Clerk will designate the amendment.

The text of the amendment is as follows:

Amendment offered by Mr. Pitts:

Page 67, line 19, after the dollar amount, insert the following: "(reduced by $25,000) (increased by $25,000)".

The CHAIRMAN. Pursuant to the order of the House today, the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Pitts) and a Member opposed each will control 5 minutes.

The gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Pitts) is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mr. PITTS. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, first of all, I want to commend the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Wolf) on his leadership in the human rights issues around the world. It is because of his leadership on these issues that I offer my amendment.

Mr. Chairman, the human rights organizations that have produced myriad accounts of torture in detention facilities and prisons around the globe, our own State Department in the annual Country Reports, the Human Rights sections, reports on the use of torture in each nation covered by the report, and our Congress has passed the Torture Victims Relief Act of 1998 to fund recovery programs for victims of torture, both in the United States and abroad.

Men, women, even children have endured torture at the hands of government officials around the world. Although it is difficult to find exact figures, Amnesty International estimates that 117 countries worldwide still practice torture.

My amendment provides $25,000 for the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor to compile and publish a list of foreign government officials who order the use of, are involved in, or engage in torture as defined by the United Nations against torture and other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment.

I have had the privilege but heart-wrenching experience of hearing about torture from firsthand accounts of the victims, from a woman in North Korea to firsthand reports in Egypt. We remember one case in Al Qush where a government official, in order to find a criminal, arrested and tortured many of the 1,100 Coptics in order to find someone to confess committing the crime.

In China, there are numerous reports of Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong members, house church pastors and congregants, democracy activists who spent time in prison reform camps where they endured torture by communist officials. A recent account, Pastor Gong Shengliang, who may die in prison because of the effects of torture, is ongoing.

In May of last year, the Washington Post detailed a story of Concei da Silva who was brutally tortured in Angola. While in prison, officials hung him upside down, his veins were slashed, chunks of flesh were carved out of his chest with a machete, electricity applied to parts of his body, teeth removed. Awful things have happened.

In Latin America, terrible stories of torture. Sister Dianna Ortiz has spoken out strongly regarding her horrible kidnapping torture at the hands of the Guatemalan security forces.

The torture is horrifying, deeply affecting victims' lives. And those responsible for these crimes should be brought to justice. Unfortunately, in many countries the perpetrators will not be punished for their crimes as torture is systemic.
I and many of my colleagues strongly believe that publicizing the names of those involved in torture, government officials, can help in the campaign to end the use of torture by government officials; and I urge my colleagues to support this amendment that provides $25,000 to the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor to compile and maintain a public list of individuals involved in torture.

Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.

Mr. WOLF. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of the amendment. I want to thank the gentleman for offering it.

This really follows the principle that was used during the Carter administration and during the Reagan administration by keeping lists. Therefore, if you happen to be going to a country, when you go to China you are able to check to see that X and Y have been tortured, so when you meet with government officials, you can raise those cases. This is the way it was done in the Carter administration and in the Reagan administration.

This is a very good amendment, and I thank the gentleman for offering it, and I rise in strong support of it. I urge that we accept it.

Mr. SERRANO. Mr. Chairman, I join the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Wolf) in strong support. This is an issue that the chairman has been very strong on. We all are.

The whole situation, however, brings up a question, and I ask the gentleman not to take this as a sarcastic statement; I just need clarification. Does this include any ordering of torture used by a government near to us, like our own government, or is this just for foreign governments?

Mr. PITTS. Mr. Chairman, will the gentleman yield?

Mr. SERRANO. I yield to the gentleman from Pennsylvania.

Mr. PITTS. The gentleman knows that our policy is not to torture. Our system is progressing in the light of day with the investigations and the prosecution of torture, but this would apply to any government officials who use torture.

Mr. SERRANO. But it would be any foreign government official? I know this sounds like some sort of a sarcastic comment, but I am really trying to get to the bottom of this. Are you only applying this to foreign governments, or could this, in fact, be a question of our own government if, in fact, somebody ordered torture on some people in recent times?

Mr. PITTS. We do not specify, we do not say "foreign." We specify that the State Department compile a list of any government officials who use torture.

Mr. SERRANO. Reclaiming my time, the gentleman does open up an issue which is greater perhaps than what he intended to do, but the possibility exists that if the State Department did its job properly, and in this case it probably will not, we will never get to the bottom of the issue of who ordered torture on some people that we may be dealing with in this country. But, nevertheless, I think it is a great thought and a great idea, and I support it.

Mr. PITTS. Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.

The CHAIRMAN. The question is on the amendment offered by the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Pitts).

So the amendment was agreed to.

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