Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Momentum builds for accountability

Almost one year ago, then-presidential-candidate Barack Obama said that if “genuine crimes” such as torture, rendition, or illegal wiretapping were committed by high-level U.S. government officials, his administration would investigate them. He said, more specifically, that “if [he] found out that there were high officials who knowingly, consciously broke existing laws, engaged in coverups of those crimes with knowledge forefront, then [he thinks] a basic principle of our Constitution is [that] nobody is above the law.”

Four memos released last week by the Justice Department present the clearest indication to date of the Bush administration’s attempts to seek legal authorization for criminal acts. By writing these memos, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) created legal cover for the use of waterboarding and other abuses by the CIA; the Bush administration then used these memos to justify indefensible human rights violations, such as torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

Torture is unequivocally and universally prohibited under all circumstances, including during times of war, out of necessity, in self-defense, or where legal counsel purport to authorize it. The notion that a government attorney can provide cover for officials who seek to torture and commit other war crimes was unequivocally rejected over half a century ago when, during the Nuremberg trials, U.S. prosecutors sentenced Nazi war criminals to prison or death for committing crimes against humanity.

Under both domestic and international law, the United States is required to investigate and, where warranted, prosecute those responsible for committing acts such as torture and other war crimes or crimes against humanity. These obligations are set forth clearly in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, United States criminal laws, the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and customary human rights standards.

In his public statements regarding the memos, Mr. Obama recognized that “the United States is a nation of laws.” But it is only a nation of laws if laws have meaning, are given precedence over politics, and are enforced. The next step President Obama must take is to ask Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate these crimes and, where warranted, prosecute those responsible. It is time for the United States to prove that it is, once again, a nation of laws.

No comments:

Post a Comment