By David Tolbert*
With the publication of the much-delayed US Senate Intelligence Committee’s partial report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, at long last the truth is out. Put simply, the abuses it details are sickening. The report documents a period of lawlessness by the US Central Intelligence Agency. It shows that officials at the highest levels of the US government committed very serious and atrocious crimes, including systematic torture in violation of the UN Convention on Torture (of which the United States is a party) and US law.
The Senate report corroborates the findings of the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), in a series of reports dating back to 2008, as well as other rights groups: that the systematic practice of torture against detainees in secret overseas prisons was approved and overseen at the most senior levels of the US government. Moreover, as Senator Dianne Feinstein aptly notes in the report’s foreword, these practices were in direct “violation of U.S. law, treaty obligations, and our values.”
While we have known for over a decade about many of the details of illegal US detention and interrogation practices, the “Torture Report” establishes beyond a shadow of a doubt that the US government engaged in widespread and brutal use of torture and other criminal acts against a long list of individuals without a shred of due process or even the semblance of justice.
The full 6,700-page report has not been released yet, but its lengthy, heavily redacted executive summary nonetheless paints a repulsive picture of criminal and immoral practices far beyond what had been previously made known to the public. It also exposes the facile lie that torture somehow disrupted terror plots or saved American lives. The report, based on over 5 million pieces of evidence sourced from the CIA itself, decisively debunks this claim, and under the weight of direct evidence the CIA’s contorted claims fall like a house of cards. Moreover, it establishes in clear terms that the CIA’s torture program was perpetuated through misinformation to the public, Congress, and even the White House. Continue reading
In a statement made yesterday, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson, welcomed the publication of the summary of the Feinstein report on crimes of torture and enforced disappearance of terrorist suspects by the CIA during the Bush-era.
“The summary of the Feinstein report […] confirms what the international community has long believed – that there was a clear policy orchestrated at a high level within the Bush administration, which allowed to commit systematic crimes and gross violations of international human rights law”, said the Special Rapporteur.
Ben Emmerson added that it is now time to take action and bring to justice the individuals listed in the report, irrespective of the fact that the policies revealed in the report were authorised at a high level within the US Government.
The Special Rapporteur highlighted that international law prohibits the granting of immunities to public officials who have engaged in acts of torture and therefore that CIA officers who physically committed acts of torture bear individual criminal responsibility for their conduct
“This applies not only to the actual perpetrators but also to those senior officials within the US Government who devised, planned and authorised these crimes”, he said.
For Ben Emmerson, the heaviest penalties should be reserved for those most seriously implicated in the planning and purported authorisation of these crimes. Moreover, he said, former Bush Administration officials who have admitted their involvement in the programme should also face criminal prosecution for their acts.
The Special Rapporteur concluded that torture being a crime of universal jurisdiction, the perpetrators may be prosecuted by any other country they may travel to. However, he added that the primary responsibility for bringing those responsible to justice rests with the US Department of Justice and the Attorney General.
By Max du Plessis*
On 30 October 2014, the Constitutional Court of South Africa handed down its judgment in a landmark case for international criminal justice.
The appeal related to the responsibilities of the South African Police Service (SAPS) under domestic and international law to investigate acts of torture, as a crime against humanity, that were allegedly committed in Zimbabwe.
The decision, by South Africa’s highest court, reaffirms the obligations set out in the South African Implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Act 27 of 2002 (ICC Act) regarding investigation and prosecution of international crimes.
In March 2008, the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) submitted a dossier to the Priority Crimes Litigation Unit of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) detailing allegations of torture in Zimbabwe. The NPA took no action, indicating that they could only do so if the police investigated the allegations and laid charges. Continue reading