Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Prosecuting officials responsible for crimes against humanity

Someday, we'll be writing things like that about American officials prosecuting the torture perpetrators from the Cheney-Bush administration. Because of the irresponsible and foolish Look Forward Not Back position that the Obama administration has taken on prosecuting public officials from the last administration for known criminal acts, there's a good chance the statute of limitations will run on many of the crimes committed.

But the statute of limitations doesn't run on torture crimes. Even if the US abolished the current laws prohibiting torture - and the next Republican administration could very well do that - international law still puts the most serious requirements on prosecuting torturers. Bush himself recently said explicitly that he had ordered the water torture, aka waterboarding, a crime about which there is no question (except in the minds of torture defenders) that this is torture and a very serious crime. The 1984 Convention for the Prevention of Torture requires the Obama Justice Department, as it did the Bush Justice Department, to prosecute known torture crimes. Not only do the torture crimes themselves have to prosecuted, but also the acts of any individuals in the Bush and Obama administration who tried to block prosecution of the torturers.

This isn't going away.

I was reminded of this once more the last few days by news of a new prosecution of criminal acts by senior government officials from the Argentine junta that ruled that country brutally from 1976 to 1983. This year makes 27 years since the fall of that government and its replacement by a parliamentary democracy that has endured ever since. And they are still prosecuting those who ordered criminal detentions, torture and murder during that dictatorship.

I could quickly reel off several reasons why those crimes shouldn't be compared to those committed by the Cheney-Bush administration in its Global War on Terror. The Argentine junta's justification for criminal acts was "terrorismo," the justification in the United States was "terrorism". Legally and morally speaking, the other arguments that the situations aren't comparable would be about as relevant. (Obviously, the very specific charges and legal citations would be particular to the future prosecutions of Cheney-Bush officials.)

But the fact that the Obama administration shamefully caved on its obligation to prosecute American torture perpetrators doesn't mean that the legal jeopardy of the perpetrators is over. I certainly hope that its well before the 27-year mark of 2033 before the American prosecutions will begin. But this one isn't going away.

I should note that one meaningful historical difference between Argentina and the US in this regard is that the senior junta officials were intially prosecuted in 1985; see my post 2008 Legal action after the Argentine junta of 1976-83 11/26/2008.

The torture crimes aren't going away. They are too significant, have too much of an effect on international law, and are seriously a strike at the heart of the rule of law in the United States.

For news on the current proceedings, see:

Videla se responsabilizó por la represión, pero la definió como una "guerra interna" Clarín 05.07.2010

Videla: 'Asumo mi responsabilidad por todo lo actuado por el Ejército' El Mundo/Reuters 05.07.2010

Nora Veiras, "Mis subordinados cumplieron mis órdenes" Página 12 06.07.2010

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