Call to prosecute high level US torturers

In a press release accompanying a new 107-page report, Human Rights Watch says:

Overwhelming evidence of torture by the Bush administration obliges President Barack Obama to order a criminal investigation into allegations of detainee abuse authorized by former President George W. Bush and other senior officials, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The Obama administration has failed to meet US obligations under the Convention against Torture to investigate acts of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees, Human Rights Watch said.

The 107-page report, “Getting Away with Torture: The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees,” presents substantial information warranting criminal investigations of Bush and senior administration officials, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and CIA Director George Tenet, for ordering practices such as “waterboarding,” the use of secret CIA prisons, and the transfer of detainees to countries where they were tortured.

“There are solid grounds to investigate Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Tenet for authorizing torture and war crimes,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “President Obama has treated torture as an unfortunate policy choice rather than a crime. His decision to end abusive interrogation practices will remain easily reversible unless the legal prohibition against torture is clearly reestablished.”

If the US government does not pursue credible criminal investigations, other countries should prosecute US officials involved in crimes against detainees in accordance with international law, Human Rights Watch said.

“The US has a legal obligation to investigate these crimes,” Roth said. “If the US doesn’t act on them, other countries should.”

Obama has clearly demonstrated that he is not going to do anything about this because he too may face similar charges in the future. What we have to hope is that independent-minded prosecutors in other countries will take up the cause. The fear of arrest is likely to continue to prevent Bush, Cheney, and their fellow torture cronies from visiting many countries. It serves them right to be treated like criminals.


  1. Manik says

    Does any reader of this Blog know how the process by which “other countries could prosecute US officials involved in crimes against detainees in accordance with international law”? i.e. Who in other countries can prosecute? What is the mechanism? Can individuals or a group of individuals prosecute?

  2. says


    As I understand it, certain crimes (like torture) are considered crimes against humanity and thus prosecution is not limited to the jurisdiction in which the crime was committed. Thus any prosecutor or magistrate anywhere in the world can issue a warrant for the arrest and prosecution of a person accused of such crimes. This prevents people from escaping prosecution by simply leaving the country where they committed the crime.

    In practice, in most countries the justice system is centralized and unless it is authorized at the highest levels, people like Bush and Cheney will not have warrants issued for their arrest because most governments don’t want to cross the US.

    But there are some countries (Italy for example) where local magistrates have considerable autonomy and they can issue such warrants.

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