About Travis Hall

Tom Parker is the Policy Director for Terrorism, Counterterrorism and Human Rights at Amnesty International USA. He was previously Executive Director of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center in New Haven, Connecticut and has worked extensively during the past five years as a consultant on post-conflict justice issues for clients such as USAID, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Open Society Institute on projects in Darfur, Iraq and Georgia. Tom has also served as a war crimes investigator with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and as a counterterrorist official with the British government. Tom has held adjunct positions with both Yale University's Residential College Seminar Program and Bard University's Globalization and International Affairs Program teaching courses on trends in international terrorism and counter-terrorism. He has also been a member of the adjunct faculty of the Defense Institute for International Legal Studies (DIILS) serving as an instructor on counterterrorism training programs in countries as diverse as Latvia, Rwanda, Nepal, Albania, Thailand, Lebanon and Sri Lanka. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics, the University of Leiden and Brown.
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A presidential pardon would not preclude accountability

The worth of a law is in its enforcement; if a law is not enforced, then it has no more value than a platitude, aspiration, or preference.  Because of this reason, one of AIUSA’s CTWJ campaign goals 100 days goals for the new administration is “accountability.”  Or in other words, AIUSA will demand that the government account for illegal or wrongful conduct of its employees or agents in the “war on terror.”

At first glace, a general presidential pardon (which seems likely in some form) threatens the accountability process.  But as I explain below, a pardon will likely only have a limited affect upon accountability.

As a general matter, a pardon precludes the US from prosecuting someone for criminal acts covered by the pardon.  However, accountability comes in many forms, not the least of which is a process resembling a truth commission.

South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission

South Africa


Congress has authority to summon witnesses to testify in hearings and a pardon does not limit this congressional power.  First, witnesses will have few, if any, 5th amendment rights protecting them from self-incrimination if those witnesses previously received a pardon.  If a witness has immunity, then there is no legal justification for that person to invoke the 5th amendment.  Second, a pardon does not protect a person from prosecution for future crimes.  If a person subject to a pardon refuses to testify, then congress can institute contempt proceedings against that individual.

There is also a question whether a pardon really protects US citizens from criminal liability.  Genocide, torture, or other violations of the law of are grave breaches of international law.  Grave breaches of international law trigger a doctrine called “universal jurisdiction,” meaning a person may be prosecuted by any country that obtains control over the person to be tried.  So, a person subject to a pardon for grave breaches of international law may be immune from prosecution in the US but remain subject to prosecution in any other country.  And if a person has received a presidential pardon but is detained overseas, then that county cannot extradite the American citizen back to the US for prosecution because the US will be precluded from trying the individual in American courts due to the broad application of the pardon.

So while a presidential pardon may create procedural or legal challenges to the accountability process, a pardon will not derail the accountability process.

There Is No Justification In Keeping Gitmo Open

Below is my reply on the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Piece of Nov. 4, 2008: Guantanamo Revelation.

I served in the military for 14 years, including three deployments to the Middle East. My last deployment was to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom and I remain deployed in Baghdad after its fall until December, 2003. As an Arabic speaker, I worked closely with Arabs of nearly all nationalities. I had many frank discussions. In discussing the difference between the US and Saddam’s Iraq, I could always point to the legal system in the US as a venue for any citizen to protest their grievances and to protect their constitutional rights. In contrast, I could discuss Saddam’s closed and often secret state security courts, arbitrary detentions, and prolonged arrest of state enemies without trial. This point became lost on Arabs after Gitmo continued to operate as it has over the last 7 years….7 years in which 775 people have been detained, approximately 250 remain in detention, and only two have faced anything resembling a trial.

If a Gulag is where Soviet officials sent enemies of the state, whether real or perceived, to some remote outpost and then removed the prisoners’ ability to challenge the legality of their detention or have a timely and fair trial, then GITMO is a gulag in all but name only. Its reputation as a gulag is not false, but well earned. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST