Sunday, March 29, 2009

Justice for Bush's torturers?

When the Bush Administration adopted a policy of torture and harsh treatment towards suspected terrorists, they acted as if they had total impunity. They thought they could order their captives to be beaten, starved, frozen, subjected to "stress positions" and waterboarded, and that there would be no penalty for doing so.

They were wrong.

A Spanish judge - Baltasar Garz√≥n, the man who went after Pinochet - has just passed a case to the prosecutor's office. That case cites six top Bush Administration officials for creating the legal framework to justify torture and circumvent the Geneva Conventions. The officials include former Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee, plus former White House General Counsel (and later Attorney-General) Alberto Gonzales, former DOD general counsel William Haynes, former under secretary of defence for policy Douglas Feith, and former Vice-presidential chief of staff David Addington. Yoo and Bybee wrote legal opinions purporting to justify torture; the others received and implemented them. There is a clear parallel with the Nuremberg "judge's trial", where Nazi jurists and lawyers responsible for developing and implementing legal policies which led to human rights abuses on a mass scale were held accountable for them. The same will hopefully happen to Bush’s torturers.

The case is expected to proceed and result in arrest warrants being issued. No-one expects the US government to extradite (Cthulhu forefend any US politician being held accountable for their actions, particularly by foreigners), but the existence of the warrants will be a significant limit on the freedom of these torturers. Like Kissinger, they won't be setting foot outside the US ever again. Beyond that, there's always the hope that opinion in the US will change. The struggle for international justice is long, and we've seen cases where people have woken up one morning and learned with horror that they will no longer be protected and that they will have to answer for their crimes. And hopefully that will happen to Gonzales, Yoo, et al.