Posts Tagged ‘prisoners’ abuse’

Nuremberg Set a Valid Precedent for Trials of War-crime Suspects in Iraq’s Destruction

May 28, 2009

By Cesar Chelala | The Japan  Times, May 27, 2009

New York – The Nuremberg Principles, a set of guidelines established after World War II to try Nazi Party members, were developed to determine what constitutes a war crime. The principles can also be applied today when considering the conditions that led to the Iraq war and, in the process, to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, many of them children, and to the devastation of a country’s infrastructure.

In January 2003, a group of American law professors warned President George W. Bush that he and senior officials of his government could be prosecuted for war crimes if their military tactics violated international humanitarian law. The group, led by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, sent similar warnings to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and to Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

Although Washington is not part of the International Criminal Court (ICC), U.S. officials could be prosecuted in other countries under the Geneva Convention, says Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Ratner likened the situation to the attempt by Spanish magistrate Baltazar Garzon to prosecute former Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet when Pinochet was under house arrest in London.

Both former President George W. Bush and senior officials in his government could be tried for their responsibility for torture and other war crimes under the Geneva Conventions.

In addition, should Nuremberg principles be followed by an investigating tribunal, former President Bush and other senior officials in his administration could be tried for violation of fundamental Nuremberg principles.

In 2007, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the ICC’s chief prosecutor, told The Sunday Telegraph that he could envisage a scenario in which both British Prime Minister Tony Blair and then President Bush faced charges at The Hague.

Perhaps one of the most serious breaches of international law by the Bush administration was the doctrine of “preventive war.” In the case of the Iraq war, it was carried out without authorization from the U.N. Security Council in violation of the U.N. Charter, which forbids armed aggression and violations of any state’s sovereignty except for immediate self-defense.

As stated in the U.S. Constitution, international treaties agreed to by the United States are part of the “supreme law of the land.” “Launching a war of aggression is a crime that no political or economic situation can justify,” said Justice Jackson, the chief U.S. prosecutor for the Nuremberg Tribunal.

Benjamin Ferencz, also a former chief prosecutor for the Nuremberg Trials, declared that “a prima facie case can be made that the United States is guilty of the supreme crime against humanity — that being an illegal war of aggression against a sovereign nation.”

The conduct and the consequences of the Iraq war are subsumed under “Crimes against Peace and War” of Nuremberg Principle VI, which defines as crimes against peace “(i) Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances; (ii) Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i).” In the section on war crimes, Nuremberg Principle VI includes “murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property.”

The criminal abuse of prisoners in U.S. military prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo are clear evidence of ill- treatment and even murder.

According to the organization Human Rights First, at least 100 detainees have died while in the hands of U.S. officials in the global “war on terror,” eight of whom were tortured to death.

As for the plunder of public or private property, there is evidence that even before the war started, members of the Bush administration had already drawn up plans to privatize and sell Iraqi property, particularly that related to oil.

Although there are obvious hindrances to trying a former U.S. president and his associates, such a trial is fully justified by legal precedents such as the Nuremberg Principles and by the extent of the toll in human lives that the breach of international law has exacted.

Cesar Chelala, a cowinner of the Overseas Press Club of America award, writes extensively on human rights issues.

Rights Groups Slam Bid to Suppress Abuse Pics

May 15, 2009
by William Fisher |, May 15, 2009

President Barack Obama’s decision Wednesday to object to the planned release of photos showing abuse of prisoners in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan has drawn quiet praise from the military and some in Congress – and outspoken scorn from human rights advocates, a number of legal scholars and religious leaders, and many on the left of his Democratic Party.

The release, originally scheduled for May 28, was ordered by a federal appeals court in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The Obama Justice Department initially indicated it had run out of legal options and would comply with the court order.

But Wednesday, the president made a 180-degree U-turn and ordered his lawyers to go back to court to appeal the decision. It is likely the case will eventually make its way to the Supreme Court.

At a press conference, Obama said that, “Any abuse of detainees is unacceptable. It is against our values. It endangers our security. It will not be tolerated.”

However, he argued that “the publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals. In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.”

“These photos that were requested in this case are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib,” Obama added, in an apparent contradiction.

Photographs released in 2006 of detainees being abused and humiliated at the Abu Ghraib military prison in Iraq sparked widespread outrage and led to convictions for several prison guards and the ouster of the prison’s commander. The Pentagon shut down the prison in the wake of the scandal but it reopened under Iraqi control earlier this year.

It is being widely reported in the U.S. press that two factors played significant roles in the president’s turnabout.

One was objections from top military leaders, concerned that release of the images would inflame the Muslim world at the moment when the U.S. is planning to draw down its troops from Iraq and initiate a new counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan.

The second factor is Obama’s scheduled Jun. 4 speech in Egypt; some in the administration were reportedly worried that the photos would blunt the president’s message of reconciliation with the Muslim community by providing fresh fodder for the anti-U.S. press in the Middle East.

Those said to be making this case to the White House include Robert Gates, the secretary of defense; Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. David Petraeus, the CENTCOM commander; Gen. Ray Odierno, the U.S. commander in Iraq; and Gen. David McKiernan, the outgoing U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

Some influential members of Congress have also been urging Obama not to release the photos. They include Senator Lindsay Graham, a conservative Republican from South Carolina and a long-time military lawyer in the Air Force Reserve; and Senator Joe Lieberman, an Independent from Connecticut. Graham is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Lieberman is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

The two senators wrote to Obama on Mar. 7, “Releasing these old photographs of detainee treatment now will provide new fodder to al-Qaeda’s propaganda and recruitment operations, undercut the progress you have made in our international relations, and endanger America’s military and diplomatic personnel throughout the world.”

Support for the Obama decision has also came from some veterans’ groups. David Rehbein, the national commander of the American Legion, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that nothing good can come from the release of the photographs.

“Other than self-flagellation by certain Americans, riots and future terrorist acts, what else do people expect will come from the release of these photographs?” he asked.

But this reasoning has failed to impress human rights groups and some religious leaders, many on the Left of the Democratic Party, and some spokesmen for the Right.

Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, told IPS, “The Obama administration’s effort to suppress the photos is disappointing, particularly because President Obama has made a very public commitment to government transparency.”

“These photos would provide further evidence that abuse was systemic rather than aberrational and further evidence that abuse was the result of policy. The public has a right to see these photographs, and the Obama administration has no legal basis for withholding them,” he said.

Human Rights First argues that releasing the photos is vital. The group says it has set up a nonpartisan inquiry to “evaluate the full cost of abuses, look at how we got there, and come up with safeguards so we don’t repeat the same mistakes.”

Amnesty International USA’s executive director, Larry Cox, said, “Today’s decision to hold the torture photos only points more firmly to the urgent need for an investigation to expose, prosecute and finally close the book on torture. The American people have been lied to, and government officials who authorized and justified abusive policies have been given a pass.”

Criticism of Obama’s decision also came from some conservatives.

Bruce Fein, chairman of the American Freedom Agenda and a senior Justice Department official during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, told IPS, “The more things change, the more they stay the same. To maintain that the more grisly the abuses or torture revealed by the photos, the greater the urgency of secrecy to prevent infuriating foreigners is a page from George Orwell’s 1984.”

Some religious leaders are also critical of Obama’s decision. Rev. Richard Killmer, executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, told IPS, “President Obama promised to make his administration ‘the most open and transparent in history.’ It is unfortunate that he appears to have chosen to backpedal on that promise on the issue of U.S.-sponsored torture.”

“Not only should he allow the release of these photos, but he should also move to establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate and report on our use of torture since 9/11,” Killmer said.

Legal scholars are also expressing opposition to Obama’s decision. Typical is Prof. Francis Boyle of the University of Illinois law school.

He told IPS, “This tragic, misguided, and unprincipled reversal seems to be consistent with the fact that instead of getting a real ‘change’ on policies under the Obama administration, the American people are experiencing continuity across the board with those of the discredited and criminal Bush administration when it comes to international law, human rights, and U.S. constitutional law related thereto.”

A similar view comes from Marjorie Cohn, president of the National Lawyers Guild. She told IPS, “President Obama’s about-face on releasing the photos belies his commitment to transparency. Those who authorized the mistreatment depicted in the photos have not been punished. By refusing to make the photos public, the administration is withholding evidence that could be used to bring the real culprits to justice.”

Criticism of the Obama decision has also become viral among liberals in the blogosphere, For example, Cenk Uygur, writing in the left-leaning Huffington Post, said, “This is an unbelievable moment. Dick Cheney’s PR offensive over the last month actually worked. Barack Obama just crumbled and will follow Cheney’s command to not release the new set of detainee abuse pictures.”

(Inter Press Service)

Photo evidence bring new claims US abused prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan

April 25, 2009

The Obama Administration is to release up to 2,000 photographs showing the abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, a move that will intensify pressure on the White House to back the prosecution of Bush-era officials for authorising alleged torture.

The release of the pictures, forced on the White House by a freedom of information lawsuit lodged five years ago, will complicate President Obama’s desire to move on from the abuse issue, which has begun to bedevil his presidency. The images are proof that the brutal treatment of detainees went far beyond the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq. They must be made public by May 28.

The leading anti-torture envoy at the United Nations stoked the controversy by insisting that the US was obligated by the UN’s Convention on Torture to prosecute lawyers in the Bush Administration who justified harsh interrogations.

For the first time the photographs are believed to provide images of abuse at Guantánamo Bay, as well as at facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to US officials who have seen the pictures, some show American service members intimidating prisoners by pointing weapons at them, an offence that in the past has brought courts martial.

One official said that the pictures were not as shocking as those that emerged from Abu Ghraib but were “not good”. The Abu Ghraib photographs showed Iraqi prisoners hooded, intimidated by dogs, beaten and piled naked in sexually embarrassing positions.

Since his decision to release four CIA torture memos last week that detailed the harsh interrogation techniques approved by the White House under President Bush, Mr Obama and his aides have faced anger from both liberals and Republicans.

The move dismayed officials inside the CIA, despite Mr Obama’s initial assurance that neither CIA agents nor Bush-era policymakers would face prosecution.

Then this week Mr Obama appeared to raise the possibility of the possible prosecution of officials. That triggered such an uproar from Republicans, led by the former Vice-President Dick Cheney, who is calling for more documents to be declassified to prove that methods including simulated drowning worked, that Mr Obama has retreated from the idea.

Mr Obama said on Thursday that he did not favour congressional hearings or a “truth commission” into alleged abuses, but he has no power to block such moves on Capitol Hill. Momentum is rapidly building there for bringing senior members of the former Administration before House and Senate committees.

Liberals, meanwhile, are expressing anger that Mr Obama is not backing prosecutions, and the release of the new photographs will increase their demands for retribution.

Amrit Singh, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the freedom of information lawsuit, said of the photographs: “This will constitute visual proof that, unlike the Bush Administration’s claim, the abuse was not confined to Abu Ghraib and was not aberrational. This disclosure is critical for helping the public understand the scope and scale of prisoner abuse as well as for holding senior officials accountable for authorising or permitting such abuse.”

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