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Selective U.S. Prosecutions in Torture Scandal Underscore International Obligation to Investigate U.S. Officials

Posted in the database on Friday, May 27th, 2005 @ 10:56:36 MST (1379 views)
from Amnesty International  

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Impunity Imperils Eradication of Cruel Treatment

(Washington, DC)—At the launch of its 2005 Annual Report, Amnesty International called on foreign governments to uphold their obligations under international law by investigating U.S. officials implicated in the development or implementation of interrogation techniques that constitute torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. While the U.S. government has failed to conduct a genuinely independent and comprehensive investigation, the officials implicated in these crimes are nonetheless subject to investigation and possible arrest by other nations while traveling abroad, the organization said.

The human rights organization warned that at least one dozen former or current U.S. officials are vulnerable to this action. The individuals, who, to date, have either dodged investigation or escaped sanction, include those at the highest levels of government, such as President Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, as well as Attorney General Gonzales and former CIA Director George Tenet. They also include government lawyers who advocated or approved setting aside critical protections against torture or recommended interrogation methods that constitute torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, as well as military officers who implemented those decisions. While the United States bears primary responsibility for investigating these acts, research by Amnesty International establishes that more than 125 countries have legislation permitting investigation of serious crimes committed outside their borders.

“Tolerance for torture and ill-treatment, signaled by a failure to investigate and prosecute those responsible, is the most effective encouragement for it to spread and grow. Like a virus, the techniques used by the United States will multiply and spread unless those who plotted their use are held accountable,” said Dr. William F. Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA. “The U.S. government’s response to the torture scandal amounts to a whitewash of senior officials’ involvement and responsibility. Those who conducted the abusive interrogations must be held to account, but so too must those who schemed to authorize those actions, sometimes from the comfort of government buildings. If the United States permits the architects of torture policy to get off scot-free, then other nations should step into the breach.”

The Geneva Conventions and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention against Torture) place a legally binding obligation on states that have ratified them to exercise universal jurisdiction over persons accused of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and torture or to extradite the suspects to a country that will. Therefore, if anyone suspected of involvement in the U.S. torture scandal visits or transits though foreign territories, governments could take legal steps to ensure that such individuals are investigated and charged with applicable crimes.

Certain crimes, including torture and other grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, are so serious that they amount to an offense against the whole of humanity and therefore all states have a responsibility to investigate and prosecute people responsible for these crimes. This principle applies wherever those suspected of the crimes happen to be, whatever their nationality or position, regardless of where the crime was committed and the nationality of the victims, and no matter how much time has elapsed since the commission of the crime. One of the best-known applications of this principle was the October 16, 1998, arrest in London of Augusto Pinochet, in connection with torture and “disappearances” in Chile at a time when he was president of that country.

Although approximately 125 members of the U.S. armed forces have either been court-martialed or received non-judicial punishment or other administrative action, to date no one in the extended chain of command, including those who formulated policies on the treatment and interrogation of prisoners, has been held accountable.



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