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Responsibility, Personal and Otherwise

Scott Horton has a short piece at Harpers that I hope everyone at the Department of Justice will read.  I also invite you to read the whole thing.  In case you don’t feel like clicking, though, I’m going to borrow a little more than I should:

The most remarkable part of the [new report entitled “Guantánamo and Its Aftermath , as prepared by The Human Rights Center of the University of California] is certainly the forward written by Patricia Wald, one of the nation’s most respected retired federal appellate judges. Judge Wald has a credential that few of her colleagues share: she left the court of appeals to serve as a war crimes tribunal judge for Yugoslavia and she also served as a member of the Commission President Bush constituted to look at the false allegations of WMDs in Iraq. Judge Wald compared the current allegations surfacing about detainee abuse authorized by President Bush with the cases she examined coming out of the war in Yugoslavia—that resulted in the indictment and conviction of a number of political leaders in the Balkans. Here’s what she has to say:

There are bound to be casualties when any nation veers from its domestic and international obligations to uphold human rights and international humanitarian law. Those casualties are etched on the minds and bodies of many of the 62 former detainees interviewed for this report, many of whom suffered infinite variations on physical and mental abuse, including intimidation, stress positions, enforced nudity, sexual humiliation, and interference with religious practices.

Indeed, I was struck by the similarity between the abuse they suffered and the abuse we found inflicted upon Bosnian Muslim prisoners in Serbian camps when I sat as a judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, a U.N. court fully supported by the United States. The officials and guards in charge of those prison camps and the civilian leaders who sanctioned their establishment were prosecuted—often by former U.S. government and military lawyers serving with the tribunal—for war crimes, crimes against humanity and, in extreme cases, genocide.

There should be no confusion about what is being said here. One of America’s most prominent judges–and one of our few judicial experts on war crimes–is saying that the factual basis exists to charge officials of the Bush Administration. The test is fairly simple: is the United States now prepared to apply to itself the same legal standards that the United States applied to political leaders in the former Yugoslavia? It is in the end a simple question of justice. And a question of whether the United States is prepared itself to live by the standards it imposes on others.

This is fundamental.

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1 Comment

  1. Genevieve

    I actually was supposed to go to Cuba for a couple days as part of my summer internship on this very issue; ended up stuck in the states just writing returns for the gov’t to these habeas petitions. No tour and plane ride for me. :(

    Seriously, it’s really incredible to see the entire package of information and the timelines that these detainees have at GTMO- there’s a difference between what the papers say, what the gov’t says and what the actual facts are. What was more interesting to me was how the new people, who were just coming on board post Boumediene, (including myself) were treated and what we were told about how this procedure’s going to run. It really seemed like the upper levels had no idea that this could turn into the mess it did- but how could you not see that, looking at the line of cases from Padilla through Hamdan, or even at the district level, Parhat?

    It’s pretty crazy (and pretty pathetic when you are letting your summer intern pick up the pieces. Really, guys? You want *my* input on what to do? This is a sign of obvious desperation.)

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