Pressure builds for war crimes prosecutions

Democracy Now! reports that there have been some encouraging signs about prosecuting key US officials for war crimes.

A human rights group in Berlin, Germany, has filed a criminal complaint against the architects of the George W. Bush administration’s torture program. The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights has accused former Bush administration officials, including CIA Director George Tenet and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, of war crimes, and called for an immediate investigation by a German prosecutor. The move follows the release of a Senate report on CIA torture which includes the case of a German citizen, Khalid El-Masri, who was captured by CIA agents in 2004 due to mistaken identity and tortured at a secret prison in Afghanistan. So far, no one involved in the CIA torture program has been charged with a crime — except the whistleblower John Kiriakou, who exposed it.

Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and chairman of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, says that the fact that Justice department lawyers like John Yoo and Jay Bybee wrote memos authorizing the torture may help to shield them from prosecutions in the US, in the highly unlikely event that such were ever brought, but would not carry any weight in international tribunals.

This wasn’t like these memos just appeared independently from the Justice Department. These memos were facilitated by the very people—Cheney, etc.—who we believe should be indicted. This was part of a conspiracy so they could get away with torture. But that’s not the subject here now. I just want to—so, that is clear to me.

Secondly, whatever we think of those memos, they’re of uselessness in Europe. Europe doesn’t accept this, quote, “golden shield” of a legal defense. Either it’s torture or it’s not. Either you did it or you didn’t. And that’s one of the reasons, among others, why we’re going to Europe and why we went to Europe to bring these cases through the European Center.

The New York Times has also editorially called for the Obama administration to investigate and prosecute those involved in torture. I am not hopeful that this will happen since Obama has proven himself to be entirely without principles on the torture issue, thus enabling pestilences like Dick Cheney and other torture enablers to blanket the airwaves with their justifications. Even the New York Times is likely cynically trying to salvage its own past complicity in torture. Recall how for a long time it refused to even use the word torture to describe the practices, thus providing cover for the Bush-Cheney torture regime.

Patrick Martin and David North try to understand the reasons behind the paper’s change of heart.

How is this editorial to be explained? The publisher and editors of the New York Times are not political innocents, and there is nothing in the Senate report of which they were previously unaware. In fact, the Times played a significant role in suppressing reports of torture and other criminal acts of the Bush administration.

If the Times is now calling for criminal prosecution of leading figures in that administration, it is because (1) its editors know that the crimes documented in the Senate report are only a fraction of the criminal and anti-constitutional activities of the Bush administration; (2) they fear that the flagrant violations of law have gravely undermined the legitimacy of American foreign policy and weakened Washington’s world position; and (3) they are deeply concerned that the reckless trampling on constitutional and democratic norms poses potentially fatal consequences for the stability and political legitimacy of the social order on which their wealth and privileges depend.

Those sections of the ruling class represented by the Times are concerned that the wholesale break with constitutional legality, carried out by the Bush administration and continued and deepened by the Obama administration, now threatens the political stability of the United States.

Whatever the precise motives and calculations that have led to the publication of the editorial, there can be no doubt that a bitter political conflict is raging within the ruling elite.

Meanwhile the group Physicians for Human Rights is calling for a full investigation into the role played by medical professionals in the torture practices.

“Under the auspices of the Bush administration, the CIA systematically tortured suspected terrorist detainees, in at least one instance to the point of death. This torture program heavily relied on the participation and active engagement of health professionals to commit, conceal, and attempt to justify these crimes,” PHR concludes.

The report comes days after Dick Cheney, the former US vice president, defended the practices disclosed in the report including “rectal feeding” – arguing the practice was done for medical reasons. Former CIA director Michael Hayden has also claimed that the practice was carried out on medical grounds.

According to PHR, rectal hydration is almost never practiced in medicine because there are more effective methods, and it is never considered as a first option for rehydration or nutritional support. PHR notes that the report indicates that rectal hydration was used to “control and/or punish the detainees … Insertion of any object into the rectum of an individual without his consent constitutes a form of sexual assault.”

At least these moves are keeping the issue alive and putting a small amount of pressure on the torturers and their enablers in the US government.


  1. says

    The New York Times has also editorially called for the Obama administration to investigate and prosecute those involved in torture

    Remember that the NYT were the spineless fucking cowards who adopted the “harsh interrogation” language during the time torture was being committed. I guess the danger of losing access to the white house, for telling the truth, was too much for them so they kept silent and sat on their hands like good little totalitarian facilitators. And, like good little totalitarian facilitators now that it’s safe, they’re screaming for heads to roll.

  2. says

    PS -- of course they should be prosecuted. Under US law any US attorney could indict the criminals. Why is it not happening?? This whole rigamarole of “waiting for international action” is bullshit. The US law is very, very clear. Torture and War Crimes have both been committed; US attorneys should have been issuing arrest warrants immediately.

  3. Jeroen Metselaar says

    Although I would love to see these torturers pay for their crimes I also live a stones throw from The Hague and would like to point out the US does not recognize the ICC when it suits them and under Bush there have even been veiled threats of direct attacks if the ICC would ever dare to prosecute a US citizen.

    Yes, you read this right. ( ) The US threatens one of their oldest allies with military force if an UN institution does its job.

  4. says

    If only there were a country that had the ability to use military force to arrest the war criminals hiding in other countries, far across the ocean….

    Unlike those at Guantanamo, as least Bush, Cheney and others wouldn’t be waterboarded, and they would actually get fair representation and fair trials.

  5. says

    If only there were a country that had the ability to use military force to arrest the war criminals hiding in other countries, far across the ocean….

    It would be … interesting … if some country began legal drone-strikes against war criminals in the US. After all, the US has established that assassinating “illegal combatants” and war criminals is the epitome of statecraft.

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