Hypocrisy: Not the Change We Need

Jonathan Turley points out some potential hypocrisy in the Obama administration.

In a striking departure from the Bush Administration, Ambassador Susan E. Rice, US Permanent Representative to the United Nations, called for an investigation into possible war crimes committed by Israel in the recent Gaza fighting. While correctly noting such violations by Hamas, Rice noted that there are now credible accounts that need to be investigated. The question is now whether the Administration will apply the same standard to the investigation and prosecution of war crimes that are now clearly identified in the Bush Administration involving an official torture program.

I’m pleased to see a more balanced approach to Israel (on this, see Glenn Greenwald) and the allegations of the use of white phosphorus by the Israelis is disturbing. However, I’d be more pleased to see us address the war criminals at home before we tackle them abroad.

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UN Official: US Obligated to Prosecute Torture

So it begins.

“Judicially speaking, the United States has a clear obligation” to bring proceedings against Bush and Rumsfeld, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak said, in remarks to be broadcast on Germany’s ZDF television Tuesday evening.

He noted Washington had ratified the UN convention on torture which required “all means, particularly penal law” to be used to bring proceedings against those violating it.

“We have all these documents that are now publicly available that prove that these methods of interrogation were intentionally ordered by Rumsfeld,” against detainees at the US prison facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Nowak said.

War crimes have ‘universal jurisidiction’, meaning that any country may bring charges against suspected war criminals. This was the theory underwhich Augusto Pinochet was arrested in 1998 in London on charges in a Spanish court. One of the charges was for the use of torture. If America does not prosecute, or at the very least, publicly investigate potential war criminals in its midst, then eventually another country will. Most importantly, it will undermine America’s standing as a model for the rule of law; a crowning glorious collapse of the remains of America’s international prestige.

As an aside, human rights groups and the Arab League are calling for an investigation by the International Criminal Court into suspected war crimes committed by Israel in the recent fighting in Gaza, particularly the use of white phosphorus in civilian areas. See stories here and here. While it is unlikely that the ICC would find it has jurisdiction, it may still have interesting implications for the United States on the torture front. Of course, there is also the issue of Security Council Resolution 1422 that granted immunity to non-States Parties in UN authorized missions between 2002 and 2004, which makes prosecution by the ICC even less likely.