Explore Harvard's Nieman network Nieman Fellowships Nieman Lab Nieman Reports Nieman Storyboard

The torture discussion is heating up internationally

COMMENTARY | May 10, 2009

A columnist in Germany’s IDN (In-Depth News) writes: “There is now no question that Bush and company are guilty before the world of enthusiastically embracing a policy of torture in defiance of US law and the Geneva Conventions.” And from the Arab Gulf News: “One of the casualties of international responses to Al Qaida and global terrorism has been human rights and international law.”


By Lauren Drablier
lauren.drablier@sciences-po.org

PARISNearly a month after the memos outlining the Bush administration’s policies of torture were released, the international debate about what to do to those who were responsible is still heating up.

In many cases, public support is in favor of making sure those responsible are held accountable.  Some argue that it is likely that countries around the world will launch their own investigations, regardless of how the United States proceeds. Others believe that criminal prosecution is unlikely but that the careers of those involved will suffer greatly.

Cuba’s Periodico 26 dicusses Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon’s investigation into torture at Guantanamo in Spanish Judge Begins Investigation into Torture Cases at Guantanamo:

“Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon on Wednesday opened an investigation into what was described as a "systematic programme" of torture at the US detention camp in Guantanamo.

“Following accusations by four former prisoners, Garzon ruled that he “will investigate the perpetrators, the instigators, the necessary collaborators and accomplices to crimes of torture at the prison at the US naval base in southern Cuba.”

“Garzon said that documents declassified by the US administration and carried by US media "have revealed what was previously a suspicion: the existence of an authorized and systematic program of torture and mistreatment of persons deprived of their freedom" that flouts international conventions.

“The decision by Garzon, known around the world for ordering the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London in 1998, was reportedly unrelated to another investigation by the Spanish judge into six officials of the former US administration of George W. Bush over alleged torture at Guantanamo Bay.

“Since 2005, Spain has assumed the principle of universal jurisdiction in alleged cases of crimes against humanity, genocide, and terrorism. But it can only proceed when any such cases of the alleged crimes are not already subject to a legal procedure in the country involved.”

Australia’s ABC News reports that international investigations into the Bush administration’s use of torture are likely in Bush administration 'could face charges over Guantanamo torture':

“Lawyer and author Philippe Sands has told ABC TV's Lateline that any criminal investigation into the Bush administration is more likely to come from outside the US.

“’The evidence seems to be pretty strong now that certainly [former vice-president Donald] Rumsfeld, certainly now it seems [former] Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were involved,’ he said.

“‘And the issue I think is much more one of political will. Can we really imagine an independent prosecutor opening a criminal investigation of the most recent administration?

“‘That doesn't mean that foreign criminal investigations might not do precisely that.’”

A UK Times Online columnist argues in 'Torture memos' unlikely to result in criminal prosecution that the careers of those involved will suffer:

“An investigation by the US Justice Department into the authors of Bush-era “torture memos” is unlikely to recommend criminal prosecution — but may suggest that they should be disciplined or even banned from practicing as lawyers.

“According to reports yesterday, the inquiry has concluded that lawyers such as John Yoo and Jay Bybee committed serious lapses of judgment when they wrote secret memorandums authorizing harsh interrogations including waterboarding of terror suspects.

“A recommendation that they be subject to disciplinary procedures from their state bar associations could, however, still have a severe impact on the careers of Mr Bybee, who is now a federal judge in Nevada, and Mr Yoo, who teaches law at Berkeley.”

In Be wary of hosting US torture camps Namibia’s Informanté offers countries a word of caution before accepting “handouts” from the United States:

“Renewed concerns by the United Nations Human Rights Council that the United State Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was planning to relocate its secret prisons to some African countries ought to put our authorities on alert.

“Interests shown by the US government in Etosha National Park in the wake of the controversial US state sponsored Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) should not be taken lightly.

“The American Government has injected US$305 million into Namibia through the MCA but critics fear that with the strings attached to the funding, Namibia would compromise its sovereignty and undermine domestic political institutions.

“The US government’s handouts should not be taken lightly considering recent revelations that the US is expanding its secret detention centres for terror suspects to Mauritania, Ethiopia, some countries in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

“The US ought to ensure that victims of such unlawful acts are rehabilitated and compensated.

It should be clear to the US that it is unlawful to transfer anyone into the custody of agents of another state, or facilitate such transfers unless the transfer is carried out under judicial supervision in-line with international standards.

“The CIA’s illegal activities, which have led to torture and other inhuman treatment of innocent people, deserve global condemnation in the most possible strongest terms.

“Hence, Namibia should take heed of warning signals from the UN report seriously rather than accepting hand outs without scrutiny.”

Eric Walberg, writing in Germany’s IDN, concludes that efforts to bring US officials to trial will be launched throughout the world and that Obama must take action in Will Obama Fight The Monsters or Let Them off The Hook?:

“It's as if Hitler and his henchmen arranged for compliant lawyers to produce legal opinions arguing that what the Gestapo was doing was OK so German leaders would not fear prosecution later. The lawyers would be let off the hook because they were just issuing legal opinions, not committing the actual brutality and murder, and the lowly Gestapo functionaries were, of course, just following orders. The question then becomes: is America any different?

“Former US secretary of state Colin Powell himself has repeatedly noted that the National Security Council was the centre of activity with respect to the introduction of torture and has urged those pursuing the issue to press for full disclosure of NSC materials. This would put him at the centre of the inquiry as well, suggesting the battle over Bush's legacy has begun with a vengeance, so to speak. All this threatens to upstage Obama's legislative program, but quashing the growing outrage and preventing a thorough independent inquiry would be a dangerous sign to the world that the Bush legacy is alive and well.

“There is now no question that Bush and company are guilty before the world of enthusiastically embracing a policy of torture in defiance of US law and the Geneva Conventions.

“Obama will have a hard time burying the issue. Former officials other than Powell and Burney and many anonymous ones are coming out of the woodwork.

“The same anger sweeping America has taken hold in Britain, where the chief justice ordered the government to obtain the release of classified information about the torture of a British resident imprisoned at Guantanamo. Efforts to bring to trial US officials are underway in Spain and will no doubt be launched elsewhere.

“Any decision not to prosecute CIA agents who used torture is a violation of international law, said UN special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak, since the US is bound under the UN Convention against Torture to prosecute those who engage in it.

“Obama says he doesn't want prosecutions to slow down his agenda. But if the criminals aren't prosecuted now, when will they be? Not acting is effectively giving them amnesty and cementing the popular view that the U.S. condones torture and that Obama is merely Bush-lite, which his support of rendition already suggests.

“Is Obama waiting for an even greater groundswell to justify "moving forward" - that is, with the prosecutions? This could lead to impeachment of Bush (to disqualify him from future office or from his presidential perks) - the first time a president and his underlings are impeached over a serious political policy issue since Lincoln's vice president Andrew Johnson was impeached over attempts at reconciliation with the South.

“Recall Watergate was about election shenanigans and Lewinskygate was over sexual peccadilloes. This could be the defining moment in Obama's presidency. By boldly leading the charge and routing the criminals who tore up the Constitution, he will provide a warning to others eager to dismantle America's civil society.”

In Disregard for human rights post 9/11, the United Arab Emirates Gulf News believes that the Bush administration single-handedly compromised the morals upheld by democracy and that those responsible should be prosecuted:

“New revelations about the use of torture that have captured headlines in recent days are symptomatic of a broader issue. One of the casualties of international responses to Al Qaida and global terrorism has been human rights and international law.

“Western governments that have long championed human rights and sought to distinguish themselves from other countries, whose police and security forces routinely and indiscriminately use torture, have lost the moral high ground. In less than a decade that high ground has been compromised and eroded, in particular by the George W. Bush administration, whose laws and policies circumvented or directly violated international law. During the Bush years, rule of law and civil liberties were subordinated to the will of the president. In the mirror image of extremists, policies of preventive or pre-emptive action became the excuse for actions that would normally be seen as illegal and/or immoral.

“While Obama has a track record as an advocate of civil liberties and has been clear in his denunciation of torture and desire to restore America's image and relations abroad, his policies have vacillated. Obama criticised the Bush legacy, the use of torture and announced that the US would not use torture.

“To underscore America's recommitment to the rule of law, the Obama administration should prosecute those responsible for the violations and abuses of international law. Many in the intelligence services and the military had feared criminal prosecution for their actions. Rather than making scapegoats of lower-level officials, the senior officials who designed, approved, or implemented the policy of torture and rendition should be held accountable. The restoration of America's moral stature and leadership require that, in contrast to the Bush era, the US not be seen as exempted from upholding the standards we supported in Nuremberg, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (generally called the Tokyo War Crimes Trials, in which Japanese prison officials and guards were convicted of waterboarding), The Hague, and after the Bosnian conflict.”

In the Japan Times, Tzvetan Todorov argues that those responsible should be “sanctioned by their peers” and should not enjoy impunity for their actions in Petty torture rules played on sense of duty:

“The top-secret memorandums released by the Obama administration concerning torture practices in CIA prisons shed new light on a fundamental question: How is it that people acting in the name of the United States government could so easily accept the idea of torturing detainees in their charge?

“One would have thought that torture was the result of blunders or unintentional excesses committed on the spur of the moment. On the contrary, these memos make clear that torture was a tactic formulated in minute detail.

“The Bush lawyers were the torturers' necessary partners, whose work was intended to ensure legal impunity. This was also a novelty: Torture does not appear as a breach of a common standard, unfortunate but justifiable. Instead, it has a legal standard.

“The best democratic punishment for politicians is not to re-elect them. As for unelected collaborators and enablers, we can hope that they will be sanctioned by their peers: Who would like to study with a professor who advocated torture? Who wants justice done by a judge who authorized brutality? Who wants to be treated by a doctor who oversaw it?

“If we are to understand why some Americans accepted administering torture so easily, we need not look for some ancestral hatred or fear of Muslims and Arabs. No, the cause is far worse. The memos that the Obama administration has disclosed teach us that anyone who complies with seemingly noble principles dictated by a "sense of duty" or by the necessary "defense of the homeland," or who is urged by a basic fear for his own life and welfare, or the lives and welfare of his kin, can become a torturer.”



women and terrorism
Posted by John Maszka
05/12/2009, 04:00 PM

You make some excellent points. Did you also know that terrorism affects women more than any other demographic group?

Please help us to stop terrorism by filling out a short survey at:


http://www.johnmaszka.com/SURVEY.html ...


I would really value your opinion and the opinion of your readers. The long-term goal of this project is to facilitate a more diplomatic American foreign policy in the years ahead.
Thank you,

John Maszka





Submit your comment
Your Name
Title
Comment
(2500 characters left.)
  Leave this field empty
The NiemanWatchdog.org website is no longer being updated. Watchdog stories have a new home in Nieman Reports.