Sunday, April 16, 2006

Prosecuting Rumsfeld

Human Rights Watch has responded to yesterday's revelation that US secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld personally supervised the torture and abuse of Mohamed al-Kahtani, a high-level Al Qaeda prisoner, by pointing out that this makes him potentially criminally liable. They are now demanding the appointment of a Special Prosecutor to investigate whether any crime was committed. Their argument is pretty compelling. Al-Kahtani's treatment - sleep deprivation, forced exercises, stress positions, white noise, sexual humiliation, snarling dogs, and prolonged isolation which eventually left him mad - was quite deliberate, and meets the definition of "severe physical or mental pain or suffering" in the US anti-torture statute. And the US itself agrees that these tactics are torture, at least when they are used by other people:

In 2005, the Judge Advocates General of the U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Corps told the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services that the techniques used on al-Qahtani violated the U.S. Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation, and would have been illegal if perpetrated by another country on captured U.S. personnel. The U.S. State Department also regularly condemns as torture the same techniques in its annual Country Report on Human Rights, citing their use in countries such as North Korea and Iran.

Those involved in Al-Khatani's treatment, including Major General Geoffrey Miller, may be directly liable. Rumsfeld may be liable under the principle of command responsibility - that commanders are responsible for crimes committed by their subordinates when they know or ought to know about them but do nothing to stop them. Failing that, I think an ordinary conspiracy charge would suffice.

Unfortunately, given the US's reluctance to prosecute even in cases where prisoners are tortured to death, I think hell will freeze over before we ever see Rumsfeld or any other high-level officer or official held accountable for this. Unless they're dumb enough to set foot outside the US, of course...