Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The war criminals

-- by Dave

A lot of people are distressed by the realization that the traditional remedy for a presidency as misbegotten as the one we're currently enduring -- impeachment -- simply isn't going to happen, at least not as a political reality and given the time frame remaining.

But I like to cheer them up by reminding that while impeachment may be off the table, but a war-crimes trial is not.

We got a little reminder of this yesterday:
NEW YORK - Donald Rumsfeld, the former U.S. secretary of defense, is facing criminal charges in France for ordering the torture of prisoners in Iraq and at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Last week, some of the world’s leading human rights law groups filed a complaint before a French court charging Rumsfeld with authorizing and ordering torture.

The complaint was registered at the office of the prosecutor of the Court of First Instance in Paris when Rumsfeld was in the city for a talk sponsored by Foreign Policy magazine.

“We will not rest until those U.S. officials involved in torture are brought to justice,” said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a non-profit human rights law firm in the United States.

In filing the complaint against Rumsfeld, Ratner’s group received full support from the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), the French League for Human Rights, and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

“Rumsfeld must understand that he has no place to hide,” Ratner added in a statement after filing the complaint. “A torturer is an enemy of all humankind.”

The charges against Rumsfeld were brought under the 1984 Convention against Torture, ratified by both the United States and France, which has been used in France in previous torture cases.

The criminal complaint states that because of the failure of authorities in the United States and Iraq to launch any independent investigation, it is the legal obligation of states such as France to take up the case.

Ratner and his colleagues in France’s legal community contend that Rumsfeld and other top U.S. officials are subject to criminal trial because there is sufficient evidence to prove that they had authorized the torture of prisoners held on suspicion of involvement in terrorist acts.

“France is under the obligation to investigate and prosecute Rumsfeld,” said FIDH president Souhayr Belhassen. “It has no choice but to open an investigation.”

Of course, Rumsfeld can just do a Kissinger and avoid getting into situations where he might ever actually be hauled before one of these courts. But eventually, the pressure is going to mount for some accountability:
This is the fifth time Rumsfeld has been charged with direct involvement in torture stemming from his role in the Bush administration’s global response to the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and other parts of the United States.

Two previous criminal complaints were filed in Germany under its universal jurisdiction statute, which allows Germany to prosecute serious international crimes regardless of where they occurred or the nationality of the perpetrators or victims.

The first case was filed in 2004 by CCR, FIDH, and Kaleck, who is an attorney in Berlin. That case was dismissed in February 2005 in response to official pressure from the United States, in particular from the Pentagon, the plaintiffs said.

The second case was filed last fall by the same groups as well as dozens of national and international human rights groups, Nobel Peace Prize winners, and the former UN special rapporteur on torture.

Of course, we've known since early in its tenure about the Bush adminstration's hostility to the international courts. It's not hard, in retrospect, to see why that was.

But then, very early in the "war on terror," the issue of war crimes and torture was being raised. It only reached the public eye after Abu Ghraib, at which time it was becoming apparent that this went far up the food chain at the White House.

Of course, we can't even count on our Congress to stop the torture of prisoners in our hands. But I still hear the wheels of justice churning, and I can't help but believe they will catch up to these characters some day.

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