Bush’s crimes, Obama’s blind eye, and the death of accountability
Zina Saunders / www.zinasaunders.com
I first began to learn about the human rights violations of the George W. Bush administration after 9/11: I still recall an email from an Argentine colleague asking me whether they were starting to “disappear” people in the United States. At the time, I thought she was referring to Middle Easterners residing in the United States who were being detained for long periods without charges in the period after 9/11. I wrote back to say that although this was indeed arbitrary detention without trial, these people were not disappeared. We now know that I was wrong.
By 2002 the CIA was indeed taking detainees to “black sites,” secret detention centers where they were tortured and interrogated. American officials were denying that they knew the whereabouts of these detainees, and they did not allow the International Red Cross to visit them. This fits the technical definition of disappearance. U.N. experts have clarified that international law completely prohibits such secret detention.
By the spring of 2004, after the photos of torture and degrading treatment of inmates in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq appeared, and the report of U.S. General Antonio Taguba, who investigated the abuses, was leaked to the press, I walked into the last human rights class of the semester at the University of Minnesota and said to my students: “I have been teaching this class for over 10 years, and I have to stand up and say something today that I have not said before. We have clear proof that the United States government has engaged in torture and cruel and unusual punishment of detainees.”
Starting in 2005 I began to present research in a series of conference papers, lectures, and eventually a chapter in a book titled Bringing Human Rights Home. But in all these earlier versions, I assumed that U.S. officials would not have knowingly adopted policies that were criminal under both U.S. and international law. Since that time, additional interviews and a wealth of new publications have helped me realize that Bush administration officials understood the law. They didn’t use this understanding to ensure good-faith compliance, but they did use it to craft strategies to protect themselves from the possibility of future prosecution.
In recent years, new books by Bush administration insiders and journalists have revealed more completely the inner workings of the administration’s policy of torture and detention. These works confirm that the post-9/11 approach to torture was the product of a relatively small group of allied policy makers in the executive branch of the government, led by Vice President Dick Cheney; his legal adviser, David Addington; and a team of lawyers in key positions, in particular, John Yoo, deputy director of Legal Counsel of the Justice Department.
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