U.S. Has Set 'Deplorable' Example for Human Rights, Helping Set Path for Collapse of Modern Civilization, U.N. Rapporteur Says

The United States has set a "deplorable example" for human rights, and the world is forgetting the atrocities of the past that led to the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a top United Nations expert on torture has warned.

Nils Melzer, the U.N.'s special rapporteur on torture, spoke to The Guardian for an interview published on Monday. The Swiss law professor, who took on the U.N. role in 2016, warned that modern civilization is on a path set for collapse, and accused the U.S. of playing a major role in dismantling human rights.

"The U.S. did not even seriously investigate allegations regarding the involvement of [Gina Haspel] in torture before appointing her as director of the CIA, and the U.S. president even openly supported the use of waterboarding," Melzer pointed out.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Gina Haspel and President Donald Trump attend Haspel’s swearing-in ceremony as CIA director at CIA headquarters, in Langley, Virginia, on May 21. Nils Melzer, the United Nation’s special rapporteur on torture, warned that modern civilization is on a path set for collapse. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Haspel was confirmed as the first woman to lead the CIA in May of this year. Her nomination was slammed by critics, who pointed to 2002 when she was reportedly in charge of a CIA "black site" in Thailand, where detainees were believed to be tortured. President Donald Trump has also previously said that "torture works" and that the U.S. should "go much stronger than waterboarding."

"All of this sets a deplorable example for other countries, like Israel, whose Supreme Court comes out with a decision openly promoting exceptions from the prohibition of torture—and no other state responds in protest or even voices any concern," Melzer said. "This would not have been possible 20 years ago."

Pointing to the actions the U.S. took after the 9/11 attacks during the tenure of President George W. Bush, Melzer said the "global war on terror" has seen torture increasingly tolerated. The U.N. expert blasted popular television series for presenting torture in an inaccurate way, in which agents use "sanitized torture" and then "neutralize the ticking bomb just in time for the commercial break."

"It doesn't work that way in reality," he said, highlighting that interrogators can "never" be certain about what a particular suspect knows. Melzer also said victims of torture are just as likely to give false statements to make the pain stop. "Even if torture worked, this would not make it acceptable," he argued.

Marietta Hedges yells at volunteer torture victim Maboub Ebrahimzdeh as human rights activists demonstrate waterboarding in front of the Justice Department, in Washington, D.C., on November 5, 2007. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Warning that countries around the world are rapidly becoming less concerned about human rights, Melzer said that people are forgetting the atrocities of World War II. "The generation that had the answer is almost gone. They left behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for us, but it is as if its message is no longer understood, and it looks like we will have to learn the same lesson the hard way again," he warned.

The expert's warning has come as populist leaders are seeing gains throughout the world, from Brazil to the Philippines, and several European nations, as well as within the U.S. Anti-immigration sentiments have run high, posing challenges to national and international leaders. The U.S. has taken the lead in opposing a new nonbinding U.N. accord aimed at ensuring safe, orderly and humane migration.

Melzer said that humanity "must understand that, in a world full of globalized challenges, human rights are the very basis for our safety, stability and prosperity," He explained that "any significant erosion of these rights will cause the collapse of our modern civilization."