Obama's Mixed Messages on Torture & Abuse

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The President on counterterrorism policy, after 100 days in office: No more torture, or loopholes galore? Important symbolic steps, or stalling tactics? Heading in the right direction, or Barack “Dubya” Obama?

Pundits are coming at President Obama from all sides, but after 100 days in office, what’s really going on?

Well, one important way to judge is on the basis of international human rights law–including the U.N. Convention Against Torture–and on that standard it’s clear: President Obama has a lot more to do. Scratch that. President Obama has a lot more he is legally obligated to do.

Read all about it in Amnesty International’s new report, “Mixed Messages: Counter Terror and Human Rights–President Obama’s First 100 Days.” OK, it’s a long report so here’s the take away, President Obama needs to:

  • Charge Guantanamo detainees and give them fair trials in US federal courts, or release them;
  • Respect the rights of detainees at other US facilities, like Bagram in Afghanistan;
  • Ensure that the US will never again resort to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment–as defined by international law;
  • Ensure accountability for torture and other human rights violations through: an independent commission of inquiry; prosecutions where warranted; and redress and remedy for victims.

Our message isn’t mixed: President Obama must respect and protect human rights. It’s up to us to make sure it happens.

There's nothing backwards about accountability.

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What’s all this talk about not wanting to look backward?

Inquiries from the ACLU to the U.S. Senate produce more and more evidence that the U.S. government not only violated the human rights of freedom from torture and indefinite detention, but that such violations came from directives from the highest levels of the administration. Yet the sentiment from some of our representatives in Washington seems to find criminal accountability politically inconvenient.

If a person shot and killed another in the streets of Anytown, USA, would we say, oh, just let ‘em go, we wouldn’t want to look backward? Not in a million years. But somehow when criminals occupy fancy offices wearing fresh-pressed suits, we start to believe that bringing them to justice isn’t quite appropriate.

Smells like American exceptionalism. When leaders of “repressive regimes” do bad things, we not only call for their prosecution, we invade their country, put them to death and kill a couple thousand civilians while we’re at it.

At least the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture hasn’t lost sight of the big picture. Last week he reminded the world of our obligation to prosecute Bush, Rumsfeld and all those responsible for torture.

It’s very nice that outgoing Bush gave incoming Obama a tour of the White House and that they shook hands. The niceties should stop there. Any other form of protection of human rights violators only disgraces us. Some, like Reps. Conyers (MI) and Price (NC), have been real leaders on these issues – their colleagues in the House, White House and Senate need to follow suit.

See: AI Dec 2008 paper, “USA: Investigation, prosecution, remedy