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U.N. Investigator: Prosecute for Bush Torture Policies

An investigator appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council to look into the human rights abuses committed in counter-terrorism programs around the world has sent them his report, which calls on the United States to prosecute those who ordered and carried out torture on detainees.

Ben Emmerson, U.N. special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, voiced concern that while President Barack Obama’s administration has rejected Central Intelligence Agency practices conducted under his predecessor George W. Bush, there have been no prosecutions.

“Despite this clear repudiation of the unlawful actions carried out by the Bush-era CIA, many of the facts remain classified, and no public official has so far been brought to justice in the United States,” Emmerson said in a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, which he will address on Tuesday…

The “war on terror” waged by Bush after al Qaeda attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 led to “gross or systematic” violations involving secret prisons for Islamic militant suspects, clandestine transfers and torture, Emmerson said.

Under Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder said that the Department of Justice would not prosecute any official who acted in good faith and within the scope of legal guidance given by its Office of Legal Counsel in the Bush era on interrogation.

But Emmerson said that using a “superior orders defense” and invoking secrecy on national security grounds was “perpetuating impunity for the public officials implicated in these crimes”.

This is made clear by the UN Convention Against Torture, which the United States not only signed but helped draft and pushed other countries to sign during the Reagan administration. That convention says quite plainly:

Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

The Obama administration is making an argument that is explicitly not allowed under our treaty obligations, which are legally binding on us according to the Constitution.

Comments

  1. blf says

    Time for UN sanctions against the US!

    If such a proposal came before the Security Council, would USAlienstan be allowed to vote on it?

  2. says

    It would be vetoed. But it would make an important point. Namely that the UN is and always has been the US’s carefully constructed echo-chamber.

  3. cptdoom says

    Given the political climate in this country, it very well could take sanctions from the rest of the world for us to ever prosecute the many war criminals in the Bush II cabinet, including the top 2 leaders of that administration. Certainly there was no way that Obama, whose election was a clear repudiation of the Bush II administration, could pursue such prosecutions and hope to get any work done with Congress – the GOP was bad enough without the added provocation.

    I also wonder, with the nature of our political system, whether a President could successfully prosecute a predecessor, absent such clear and convincing evidence that public opinion was solidly in favor, because such a move would smack of political retribution. Even Ford, with the clear evidence and belonging to the same party, didn’t think prosecuting Nixon was a poltiically viable option, nor a good thing for the country. I may disagree with him, but understand his thinking. Imagine how much worse it would be for someone in Obama’s position? The Bush II administration was careful to cover itself with just enough legal justification to cloud the issues and give conservatives the means to argue their case.

    That’s why it’s a shame the US does not participate in the international courts. The Hague was set up just for this kind of situation, when justice calls for prosecution, but with as little political taint as possible.

  4. TxSkeptic says

    Is there anything really new about this story except how much dust has collected on it? Much of the overreach by BushCo was known before the 2004 election, including the story of the NSA US wiretapping which the NY Times intentionally sat on until after the ’04 election. That story alone could have flipped that one for Kerry. Certainly by 2008 there were loud cries worldwide for prosecutions. When it appeared that Obama would do nothing, even a Spanish Judge attempted to indict Bush & Cheney for war crimes in 2009.

    Although Obama is certainly infinitely better than McCain or Romney would have been, he has been a giant disappointment in so many ways. His lack of any stomach for prosecuting wrongdoings of anyone in the leadership class is just sickening.

    Would Hillary have been better? Will she do better if given the chance? I don’t know, but I think it is a very important issue to address as we start propping up candidates for the 2012 primaries. The rule of law must be returned.

  5. slc1 says

    Re TxSkeptic @ #6

    You mean 2016 primaries. By the way, the lamestream media seems to have anointed Ms. Clinton as the Democrats’ 2016 nominee. Possibly Messrs Cuomo, O’Malley, Warner,and Biden may have something to say about that.

  6. David Marjanović says

    It would be vetoed. But it would make an important point. Namely that the UN is and always has been the US’s carefully constructed echo-chamber.

    Except when the topic of Syria comes up and it all suddenly turns into China’s echo chamber.

    the story of the NSA US wiretapping which the NY Times intentionally sat on until after the ’04 election

    Oh, I completely forgot about that. That should have utterly trounced the reputation of the NYT as a newspaper, as journalism.

  7. says

    If Obama prosecuted Bush or Cheney, he’d be impeached. There is zero doubt about that given the current make up of the House. Even if the Senate voted to acquit him, it would still tie things up for months. We’d be unable to deal with whatever self-inflicted fiscal crisis was looming at the time.

  8. Michael Heath says

    cptdoom writes:

    Even Ford, with the clear evidence and belonging to the same party, didn’t think prosecuting Nixon was a poltiically viable option, nor a good thing for the country. I may disagree with him, but understand his thinking. Imagine how much worse it would be for someone in Obama’s position? The Bush II administration was careful to cover itself with just enough legal justification to cloud the issues and give conservatives the means to argue their case.

    I think the Ford pardon of Nixon led to the Bush torture regime, Obama’s failure to prosecute the Bush Administration’s war crimes, and Obama’s acting with impunity regarding his own unconstitutional actions – specifically his being above the law with how he’s used the state secrets privilege*. So while I empathize with President Ford’s dilemma, I think it was one of the biggest unforced presidential errors in the 20th century, an error that harms us to this day.

  9. janiceintoronto says

    But, but, freedom! Liberty! Leading the World in Democracy! Justice!

    What crap. Maybe we could get a two-for-one deal featuring Bush and the Pope.

  10. D. C. Sessions says

    The Obama administration is making an argument that is explicitly not allowed under our treaty obligations, which are legally binding on us according to the Constitution.

    Yeah, and who’s going to make us?

  11. Infophile says

    Really, the whole UN Convention Against Torture is worth a read. It’s surprising just how much has been violated here.

    Article 13:

    Each State Party shall ensure that any individual who alleges he has been subjected to torture in any territory under its jurisdiction has the right to complain to and to have his case promptly and impartially examined its competent authorities. Steps shall be taken to ensure that the complainant and witnesses are protected against all ill-treatment or intimidation as a consequence of his complaint or any evidence given.

    Translation: If you claim to have been tortured, you must be heard out. No provision here for “state secrets.”

    Article 16, section 1:

    Each State Party shall undertake to prevent in any territory under its jurisdiction other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to torture as defined in article 1, when such acts are committed by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. In particular, the obligations contained in articles 10, 11, 12 and 13 shall apply with the substitution for references to torture or references to other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

    Translation: All that we said about torture applies even if you don’t technically consider it “torture.” “Enhanced interrogation”? Yeah, that’s covered.

  12. Childermass says

    If anyone in the Bush Administration is to be prosecuted, the decision to do so should be solely in the hands of senior non-political appointees. It is not a good idea to give the next administration the right prosecute the prior one.

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