Obama Must Prosecute Bush-Era Torture Enablers

(Originally posted on the Christian Science Monitor)

With Dick Cheney and the infamous torture memos making headlines, President Obama and our nation face a choice.  Should they prosecute or protect those responsible for the torture of detainees in secret CIA detention centers? If our leaders wish to steer our country back to the right side of the law, they must act immediately and unequivocally to prosecute.

The problem is that leading senators want the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to complete its investigation into the treatment and interrogation of detainees (which could take between four and six months), before any prosecution is launched. Yet such a delay would potentially risk running out the clock on certain types of prosecution.

The federal Anti-Torture Act, for example, is subject to a statute of limitations after only eight years.  For the prosecution of crimes committed in the months leading up to September 2002 – when Bush administration lawyers produced the first of the “torture memos” that purported to make torture legally permissible – that expiration date is spring 2010.

But there is no need to wait that long.  There is already ample evidence that shows the previous administration concocted, approved, and implemented a torture policy.  What’s more, there is no legal imperative holding the Department of Justice or federal prosecutors back from launching a criminal investigation, beginning with the task of identifying who is responsible for the crimes that have already been documented.

Although the Senate Intelligence Committee report may eventually provide some insights, it cannot be a substitute for the criminal investigations required for prosecution. But given the committee’s possible complicity in allowing torture to continue despite multiple Central Intelligence Agency briefings, we should not expect its report to break much new ground.

When Mr. Obama rescinded the torture memos upon taking office, he took an important first step toward repairing the damage wrought by the previous administration on our country’s commitment to human rights and rule of law. But his statement in April to forgo prosecution of those CIA agents who carried out torture is a breach of international law.

Some critics argue that a full investigation might lead the US public to ultimately side with torture and thus prosecution could be politically counterproductive. Others argue that prosecuting hundreds of people would waste resources during a war on terror, and that it should stay focused on going after terrorists.

However, the International Convention Against Torture, adopted by the United States in 1994, compels the US to prosecute everyone who is responsible for torture, all the way up the chain of command to top government officials who authorize it. Obama himself said in April that he’s “a strong believer that it’s important to look forward and not backwards, and to remind ourselves that we do have very real security threats out there.” At the same time he also said that “nobody is above the law, and if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen.” The law allows no exceptions.

Congress also has an urgent and important role to play: It must eliminate a loophole written into the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act. That piece of legislation contains provisions that were crafted to provide legal cover to torturers. This includes the defense that those who committed torture believed the acts were legal at the time, since they had been interpreted as such by the White House torture memos (none of which carried the force of law).

Legislators must also attend to the back end of the accountability process by eliminating or extending the statute of limitations beyond 2010, as Rep. John Conyers (D) of Michigan has proposed.

Efforts to hold torturers and torture enablers accountable have been launched abroad, most notably in Germany, Italy, and Spain.

Spanish magistrate Baltasar Garzón, a central figure in the prosecution of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, is an example of a quick, effective actor. He recently launched an investigation into the Bush administration last month over the alleged torture of four Spanish nationals at Guantánamo under the legal principle of universal jurisdiction.

He also has ordered an inquiry into whether or not six former Bush administration lawyers created a legal framework to permit torture.

Should the Spanish court ultimately indict anyone pursuant to these claims, it is unclear whether the Obama administration would extradite former US officials. But such a development might, at the very least, prevent those former officials from traveling anywhere in the European Union and further discredit their already tainted legacies.

The Obama administration promised a new era of international cooperation and respect. It now faces the first major test of its rhetoric. If the US fails to prosecute those responsible for torture, we can take our place alongside countries we have long criticized for privileging politics over justice and accountability by letting criminals go free.

Beyond the United States’ global standing, the former administration’s policies also made Americans less safe by providing recruiting tools for terrorists. The Obama administration must show that such abuses won’t stand.

AIUSA welcomes a lively and courteous discussion that follow our Community Guidelines. Comments are not pre-screened before they post but AIUSA reserves the right to remove any comments violating our guidelines.

25 thoughts on “Obama Must Prosecute Bush-Era Torture Enablers

  1. Pingback: Obama Must Prosecute Bush-Era Torture Enablers | Human Rights Now – Amnesty International USA Blog | TwURLed News (beta)

  2. Oh Please.

    President Obama, who has made it a priority within days of taking office to order a massive increase in bombings in Afganistan, which has lead to the predictible deaths of 100s of civilians, women, children, as verified by the Red Cross, is going to order the investigation of a previous administration ?

    You guys at Amnesty International have got to be joking or something right ?

    President Obama, who has, since his very first days in office, already commited massive impeachable war crimes involving the slaughter of hundereds of civilians in Afganistan, crimes which are suitable for extradition to the Hauge, has no moral authority what so ever to investigate a previous administration. It is the the *CURRENT* administration, the Obama Administration, that must be investigated, impeached and prosecuted in the Hauge for mass killing of civilians.

    Even Amnesty International, which is so timid and about critisim of Obama, was forced to release a call for an investigation of the april 7th 2009 incident in which the Red Cross confirmed 140 civilians dead from American bombs.

    So your call here for the Obama administration to investigate the previous administration, when the Obama administration is today involved in ongoing war crimes deliberately targeting civilians with Air force bombs, is like calling for Charles Manson to investigate Jeffery Daumer.

    Both administrations have proved themselves to be mass murdering war criminals and so how can one criminal investigate the other criminal?

  3. Keep holding your breath A.I.

    Though controversial and certainly uncomfortable for the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — CIA enhanced interrogation techniques (waterboarding, hot and cold temperatures, sleep deprevation, stress positions, using scary bugs and caterpillars etc) … were approved for use. Your Congress and your Senate knew it AND in most cases either signed off or turned a blind eye. NOW after the fact, after 8 years of living terror-free, after useful information was revealed, after terrorist acts were avoided…is not the time to criminalize those who followed lawful orders and did the job. If he wants to change the rules moving forward, he is the President and if he says no waterboarding so be it.

    When we capture Osama Bin Laden I’m sure the first thing we should do is read him his miranda rights, assign him a team of ACLU attorneys, get him a room at the marriott, make sure he is well fed and rested, ask him if he needs anything and then politely ask him some questions.

    My heart doesn’t bleed for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other two high ranking al-qaeda members whom the CIA waterboarded. (radical jihadist that want to kill us).

    Do you really think al-Qaeda will be LESS a threat because we drag the CIA and Bush Administration Officials through criminal investigations?. We already let the world know the enhanced interrogation techniques used and now to parade these guys into court? al-Qaeda would be appreciative and take it easy on us? Yeah right. Watching those who prevented terrorists attacks (debating whether those actions were legal or not is another argument) will have the EXACT opposite effect. This would be a moral victory for al-Qaeda and you know it.

    U.S.A. Terror Free Since 9-11-2001

  4. Oh Please.

    President Obama, who has made it a priority within days of taking office to order a massive increase in bombings in Afganistan, which has lead to the predictible deaths of 100s of civilians, women, children, as verified by the Red Cross, is going to order the investigation of a previous administration ?

    You guys at Amnesty International have got to be joking or something right ?

    President Obama, who has, since his very first days in office, already commited massive impeachable war crimes involving the slaughter of hundereds of civilians in Afganistan, crimes which are suitable for extradition to the Hauge, has no moral authority what so ever to investigate a previous administration. It is the the *CURRENT* administration, the Obama Administration, that must be investigated, impeached and prosecuted in the Hauge for mass killing of civilians.

    Even Amnesty International, which is so timid and about critisim of Obama, was forced to release a call for an investigation of the april 7th 2009 incident in which the Red Cross confirmed 140 civilians dead from American bombs.

    So your call here for the Obama administration to investigate the previous administration, when the Obama administration is today involved in ongoing war crimes deliberately targeting civilians with Air force bombs, is like calling for Charles Manson to investigate Jeffery Daumer.

    Both administrations have proved themselves to be mass murdering war criminals and so how can one criminal investigate the other criminal?

  5. Keep holding your breath A.I.

    Though controversial and certainly uncomfortable for the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — CIA enhanced interrogation techniques (waterboarding, hot and cold temperatures, sleep deprevation, stress positions, using scary bugs and caterpillars etc) … were approved for use. Your Congress and your Senate knew it AND in most cases either signed off or turned a blind eye. NOW after the fact, after 8 years of living terror-free, after useful information was revealed, after terrorist acts were avoided…is not the time to criminalize those who followed lawful orders and did the job. If he wants to change the rules moving forward, he is the President and if he says no waterboarding so be it.

    When we capture Osama Bin Laden I’m sure the first thing we should do is read him his miranda rights, assign him a team of ACLU attorneys, get him a room at the marriott, make sure he is well fed and rested, ask him if he needs anything and then politely ask him some questions.

    My heart doesn’t bleed for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other two high ranking al-qaeda members whom the CIA waterboarded. (radical jihadist that want to kill us).

    Do you really think al-Qaeda will be LESS a threat because we drag the CIA and Bush Administration Officials through criminal investigations?. We already let the world know the enhanced interrogation techniques used and now to parade these guys into court? al-Qaeda would be appreciative and take it easy on us? Yeah right. Watching those who prevented terrorists attacks (debating whether those actions were legal or not is another argument) will have the EXACT opposite effect. This would be a moral victory for al-Qaeda and you know it.

    U.S.A. Terror Free Since 9-11-2001

  6. I consider myself extreme left wing but these people you want to prosecute are American heroes. They should be given medals. They've done their job and the war is not over. You still have a group of thugs sitting in Pakistan/Afghanistan that wish to do bodily harm to American's on a massive scale. These men and women are trained to keep us out of harms way, let them do their jobs with no restrictions.

    For Christ sakes this is war, it's kill or be killed. There are no rules. How dumb are you people?

    Just a heads up, don't buck with me cuz I can tell ya straight up I won't be playing by any rules. Man you people are dumb… dumb.

  7. I consider myself extreme left wing but these people you want to prosecute are American heroes. They should be given medals. They’ve done their job and the war is not over. You still have a group of thugs sitting in Pakistan/Afghanistan that wish to do bodily harm to American’s on a massive scale. These men and women are trained to keep us out of harms way, let them do their jobs with no restrictions.

    For Christ sakes this is war, it’s kill or be killed. There are no rules. How dumb are you people?

    Just a heads up, don’t buck with me cuz I can tell ya straight up I won’t be playing by any rules. Man you people are dumb… dumb.

  8. For the most part I believe Amnesty International is a necessary organization. There a a lot of causes they get involved with that I do not feel they have any business being involved with. That said I feel their stance on thoes who committed acts they concider tourture is totally wrong. Where was A.I. when this all began. Right after thousands of Americans lost their lives at the hands of a group of fanatics. I never heard anything from them. Now years after the fact, at a time when most Americans have reverted to they're usual sheepish selves. Now A.I. is calling for the prosecution of thoes who did their jobs and gathered information that has kept the terrorists away from our boarders. You are surpose to be educated people. How dare you turn on these people for keeping our nation safe. Is there not enough criminal activity going on in the world that you must go after people who did only what anyother sovereign nation would do after suffering an unprovoked attack. We had no idea that this was coming, and that fact made it imperative for us to use what ever means necessary to gather the information needed to put blame on the right parties. To learn of any future planned attacks. The names and whereabouts of thoes responsible for these crimes against us. If Obama is the type of president he says he is, he wiil do what any honorable commander in chief would do. He will protect thoes people who protected us.

  9. This is a dead-end A.I.

    You are for the most part a reputable organization and usually well intended. WAY WAY WAY of course on this witchhunt…and very naive and ignorant to the likely consequences if by some tragic fluke you get what you wish for.

    Go ahead and respond by quoting a few like minded high ranking govt/military/intel "experts" that are as misguided as you.

    Focus your attention and limited resources on your truelly worthy causes.

    Continued peace and blessings to you all,

    U.S.A. Terror Free Since 9-11-2001

  10. John – Thanks for taking the time to respond. However, you're a little off-base when you say that Amnesty International was not there from the beginning. AI condemned the September 11, 2001, attacks and called for those responsible to be held accountable. AI also urged the US government to respect human rights in the process of apprehending and prosecuting those responsible, and in preventing future attacks. Soon after, AI started receiving and documenting reports of torture, abuse and illegal detention by the US government and contractors.

    In addition to being immoral and illegal under US and international law, torture and illegal detention have been ineffective and counterproductive, according to many military and intelligence experts. For example, former military interrogator in Iraq, Matthew Alexander, wrote, "Torture and abuse cost American lives…I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq…How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me — unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans."

    Military experts continue to point out that holding people without charge or trial, and subjecting them to torture, serve as recruiting tools for al-Qaeda and increase the risk to US soldiers and citizens. At the same time, these immoral and illegal practices undermined human rights worldwide and have failed to bring those responsible for 9/11 to justice. The way forward to security and justice is clear: human rights violations must stop and those responsible for them must be held accountable.

    To learn more about our work in relation to the "War on Terror" see: http://www.amnestyusa.org/war-on-terror/page.do?i

  11. John – Thanks for taking the time to respond. However, you're a little off-base when you say that Amnesty International was not there from the beginning. AI condemned the September 11, 2001, attacks and called for those responsible to be held accountable. AI also urged the US government to respect human rights in the process of apprehending and prosecuting those responsible, and in preventing future attacks. Soon after, AI started receiving and documenting reports of torture, abuse and illegal detention by the US government and contractors.

    In addition to being immoral and illegal under US and international law, torture and illegal detention have been ineffective and counterproductive, according to many military and intelligence experts. For example, former military interrogator in Iraq, Matthew Alexander, wrote, "Torture and abuse cost American lives…I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq…How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me — unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans."

    Military experts continue to point out that holding people without charge or trial, and subjecting them to torture, serve as recruiting tools for al-Qaeda and increase the risk to US soldiers and citizens. At the same time, these immoral and illegal practices undermined human rights worldwide and have failed to bring those responsible for 9/11 to justice. The way forward to security and justice is clear: human rights violations must stop and those responsible for them must be held accountable.

    To learn more about our work in relation to the "War on Terror" see: http://www.amnestyusa.org/war-on-terror/page.do?i

  12. John – Thanks for taking the time to respond. However, you're a little off-base when you say that Amnesty International was not there from the beginning. AI condemned the September 11, 2001, attacks and called for those responsible to be held accountable. AI also urged the US government to respect human rights in the process of apprehending and prosecuting those responsible, and in preventing future attacks. Soon after, AI started receiving and documenting reports of torture, abuse and illegal detention by the US government and contractors.

    In addition to being immoral and illegal under US and international law, torture and illegal detention have been ineffective and counterproductive, according to many military and intelligence experts. For example, former military interrogator in Iraq, Matthew Alexander, wrote, "Torture and abuse cost American lives…I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq…How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me — unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans."

    Military experts continue to point out that holding people without charge or trial, and subjecting them to torture, serve as recruiting tools for al-Qaeda and increase the risk to US soldiers and citizens. At the same time, these immoral and illegal practices undermined human rights worldwide and have failed to bring those responsible for 9/11 to justice. The way forward to security and justice is clear: human rights violations must stop and those responsible for them must be held accountable.

    To learn more about our work in relation to the "War on Terror" see: http://www.amnestyusa.org/war-on-terror/page.do?i

  13. For the most part I believe Amnesty International is a necessary organization. There a a lot of causes they get involved with that I do not feel they have any business being involved with. That said I feel their stance on thoes who committed acts they concider tourture is totally wrong. Where was A.I. when this all began. Right after thousands of Americans lost their lives at the hands of a group of fanatics. I never heard anything from them. Now years after the fact, at a time when most Americans have reverted to they’re usual sheepish selves. Now A.I. is calling for the prosecution of thoes who did their jobs and gathered information that has kept the terrorists away from our boarders. You are surpose to be educated people. How dare you turn on these people for keeping our nation safe. Is there not enough criminal activity going on in the world that you must go after people who did only what anyother sovereign nation would do after suffering an unprovoked attack. We had no idea that this was coming, and that fact made it imperative for us to use what ever means necessary to gather the information needed to put blame on the right parties. To learn of any future planned attacks. The names and whereabouts of thoes responsible for these crimes against us. If Obama is the type of president he says he is, he wiil do what any honorable commander in chief would do. He will protect thoes people who protected us.

  14. There is nothing immoral or illegal about detaining enemy combatants (with or without a federal trial).

    No one is being subjected to torture and your witchhunt to take down Bush Admin Officials and the CIA will lead you no where.

    Further, Obama has his own "Obama Era Enablers" he needs to be focusing on.

    U.S.A. Terror Free Since 9-11-2001

  15. This is a dead-end A.I.

    You are for the most part a reputable organization and usually well intended. WAY WAY WAY of course on this witchhunt…and very naive and ignorant to the likely consequences if by some tragic fluke you get what you wish for.

    Go ahead and respond by quoting a few like minded high ranking govt/military/intel “experts” that are as misguided as you.

    Focus your attention and limited resources on your truelly worthy causes.

    Continued peace and blessings to you all,

    U.S.A. Terror Free Since 9-11-2001

  16. I agree that we shouldn't wait for prosecution. But your article seems to be misleading when it states that we (as a nation) are "running out of the clock on certain types of prosecution." Though this statement may be intended to create a sense of urgency, it also leads to suggest that AIUSA believes, for example, the Anti-Torture Act is the most viable option for prosecution, reinforcing legitimacy for the 8-year statute of limitations. The US has an international obligation to prosecute crimes of torture as a party to the UN Torture Convention, and the Anti-Torture Act's statute of limitations seems to be a convenient way of evading this responsibility. Should there be an expiration date on crimes against humanity?

    I'd also like to know why aren't NGOs pushing for prosecution under the War Crimes Act of 1996 (Title 18, Sec. 2441) which has no statute of limitations? The Bush Administration tried to protect itself from possible prosecution under the War Crimes Act by declaring the Geneva Conventions inapplicable to al Qaeda and Taliban detainees but the Supreme Court held that Common Article 3 did in fact apply.

  17. John – Thanks for taking the time to respond. However, you’re a little off-base when you say that Amnesty International was not there from the beginning. AI condemned the September 11, 2001, attacks and called for those responsible to be held accountable. AI also urged the US government to respect human rights in the process of apprehending and prosecuting those responsible, and in preventing future attacks. Soon after, AI started receiving and documenting reports of torture, abuse and illegal detention by the US government and contractors.

    In addition to being immoral and illegal under US and international law, torture and illegal detention have been ineffective and counterproductive, according to many military and intelligence experts. For example, former military interrogator in Iraq, Matthew Alexander, wrote, “Torture and abuse cost American lives…I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq…How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me — unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.”

    Military experts continue to point out that holding people without charge or trial, and subjecting them to torture, serve as recruiting tools for al-Qaeda and increase the risk to US soldiers and citizens. At the same time, these immoral and illegal practices undermined human rights worldwide and have failed to bring those responsible for 9/11 to justice. The way forward to security and justice is clear: human rights violations must stop and those responsible for them must be held accountable.

    To learn more about our work in relation to the “War on Terror” see: http://www.amnestyusa.org/war-on-terror/page.do?id=1011329

  18. There is nothing immoral or illegal about detaining enemy combatants (with or without a federal trial).

    No one is being subjected to torture and your witchhunt to take down Bush Admin Officials and the CIA will lead you no where.

    Further, Obama has his own “Obama Era Enablers” he needs to be focusing on.

    U.S.A. Terror Free Since 9-11-2001

  19. I agree that we shouldn’t wait for prosecution. But your article seems to be misleading when it states that we (as a nation) are “running out of the clock on certain types of prosecution.” Though this statement may be intended to create a sense of urgency, it also leads to suggest that AIUSA believes, for example, the Anti-Torture Act is the most viable option for prosecution, reinforcing legitimacy for the 8-year statute of limitations. The US has an international obligation to prosecute crimes of torture as a party to the UN Torture Convention, and the Anti-Torture Act’s statute of limitations seems to be a convenient way of evading this responsibility. Should there be an expiration date on crimes against humanity?

    I’d also like to know why aren’t NGOs pushing for prosecution under the War Crimes Act of 1996 (Title 18, Sec. 2441) which has no statute of limitations? The Bush Administration tried to protect itself from possible prosecution under the War Crimes Act by declaring the Geneva Conventions inapplicable to al Qaeda and Taliban detainees but the Supreme Court held that Common Article 3 did in fact apply.

  20. I am somewhat shocked that the majority of responses here are condoning and supporting torture – as long as it's at the hands of Americans.

    Bravo Amnesty International for calling out the previous administration on their illegal and inhumane acts. I for one, hope that the persons involved are found out and prosecuted without hesitation.

    Torture is never permissible. Torture is never moral, it is never justified, it is never successful in moving forward a society. And for those of you who would not be swayed by moral arguments (were I to take the time to make them), let me appeal to your pragmatic side, Torture, quite simply, does not work.

  21. I am somewhat shocked that the majority of responses here are condoning and supporting torture – as long as it’s at the hands of Americans.

    Bravo Amnesty International for calling out the previous administration on their illegal and inhumane acts. I for one, hope that the persons involved are found out and prosecuted without hesitation.

    Torture is never permissible. Torture is never moral, it is never justified, it is never successful in moving forward a society. And for those of you who would not be swayed by moral arguments (were I to take the time to make them), let me appeal to your pragmatic side, Torture, quite simply, does not work.

  22. Until you are the one risking your life to keep the people in America safe, you should think before you comment. Do you enjoy living your everyday life free of fear? Some of these liberal comments sound like you want to trade your safety and freedom so terrorists can be treated as if they are normal people. It's pathetic how anti-American some Americans have become.

  23. Until you are the one risking your life to keep the people in America safe, you should think before you comment. Do you enjoy living your everyday life free of fear? Some of these liberal comments sound like you want to trade your safety and freedom so terrorists can be treated as if they are normal people. It’s pathetic how anti-American some Americans have become.