Saturday 12 December 2009
"That is what makes us different from those whom we fight," Obama said. "That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America’s commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not just when it is easy, but when it is hard."
To many human rights advocates, however, Obama’s high-minded declaration rang hollow in light of fresh reports that his administration continues to operate secret prisons in Afghanistan where detainees have allegedly been tortured and where the International Committee for the Red Cross has been denied access to the prisoners.
Obama has substituted words for action on issues surrounding torture since his first days in office nearly one year ago. Last June, on the 25th anniversary of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Obama said the US government "must stand against torture wherever it takes place" and that his administration "is committed to taking concrete actions against torture and to address the needs of its victims."
But it’s clear that his pledge does not apply to torture committed by Bush administration officials.
That’s the point the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) made shortly after Obama’s acceptance speech. Officials from the civil rights organization issued a withering indictment of the Obama administration’s handling of clear-cut cases of war crimes they say were committed by former Bush officials who the Obama administration not only refuses to prosecute but has gone to extraordinary lengths to cover up.
"We're increasingly disappointed and alarmed by the current administration's stance on accountability for torture," said Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, during a conference call with reporters. "On every front, the [Obama] administration is actively obstructing accountability. This administration is shielding Bush administration officials from civil liability, criminal investigation and even public scrutiny for their role in authorizing torture."
Before leaving office, Dick Cheney said he approved waterboarding on at least three "high value" detainees and the "enhanced interrogation" of 33 other prisoners. President Bush made a somewhat vaguer acknowledgement of authorizing these techniques.
The ACLU and other civil rights groups said Bush and Cheney’s comments amounted to an admission of war crimes.
Under the Convention Against Torture, the clear record that the Bush administration used waterboarding and other brutal techniques to extract information from detainees should have triggered the United States to conduct a full investigation and to prosecute the offenders. In the case of the US's refusal to do so, other nations would be obligated to act under the principle of universality.
However, instead of living up to that treaty commitment, the Obama administration is resisting calls for government investigations and going to court to block lawsuits that demand release of torture evidence or seek civil penalties against officials implicated in the torture.
Jaffer said that while "the Bush administration constructed a legal framework for torture, now the Obama administration is constructing a legal framework for impunity."
Defending John Yoo
Indeed, last week, Obama’s Justice Department asked a federal appeals court in San Francisco to dismiss a lawsuit filed against former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, who authored some of the memos that justified torture largely by re-defining what the term means.
In seeking to quash that lawsuit filed by alleged “dirty bomb” plotter Jose Padilla, Obama’s lawyers argued, in a friend-of-the-court brief that Justice Department lawyers who advise on torture and other human rights issues are entitled to absolute immunity from lawsuits.
"The Holder Justice Department insists that they are absolutely not responsible, and that they are free to act according to a far lower standard of conduct than that which governs Americans generally," wrote Scott Horton, a human rights attorney and constitutional expert in a column published on the Harper’s web site. "Indeed, this has emerged as a sort of ignoble mantra for the Justice Department, uniting both the Bush and Obama administrations."
Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley went even further, asserting that the Obama administration’s arguments reversed more than six decades of US legal precedents – dating back to the post-World War II Nuremberg trials – which held that legal wordsmiths who clear the way for war crimes share the guilt with the actual perpetrators.
The Obama administration "has gutted the hard-fought victories in Nuremberg where lawyers and judges were often guilty of war crimes in their legal advice and opinions," Turley said. "Quite a legacy for the world’s newest Nobel Peace Prize winner."
What’s remarkable about the Obama Justice Department’s amicus brief in the Padilla case is that it didn't need to be filed to begin with. Yoo hired a private defense attorney, albeit one who is paid for with taxpayer dollars, earlier this year when the Justice Department backed out of representing Yoo due to undisclosed conflicts.
In court papers filed last week, the Obama administration took a hard line in another case, arguing that a Supreme Court ruling that gave detainees the right to challenge their indefinite imprisonment doesn't apply to the cases of Yasser Al-Zahrani and Salah Al-Salami, two Guantanamo prisoners who committed suicide in June 2006.
Lees verder: http://www.truthout.org/12110911