By César Chelala
NEW YORK: Several human rights groups are united in their demand that former president George W. Bush face prosecution following his open admission that he authorized the use of waterboarding, one of the cruelest forms of torture. Former president Bush made his admission during interviews publicizing his book, Decision Points. As an answer to several critical questions president Bush answered “Buy my book.” With the admissions contained in his book, however, he may get more than what he bargained for.
During an interview with NBC News Bush said, “Three people were waterboarded and I believe that decision saved lives.” And he added, “My job was to protect America. And I did.” This is not the opinion of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch, three of the most prestigious human rights organizations.
“The Department of Justice has made clear that waterboarding is torture and, as such, a crime under the federal anti-torture statute.18 U.S.C. 2340 (c). The United States has historically prosecuted waterboarding as a crime. In light of the admission by the former President, and the legally correct determination by the Department of Justice that waterboarding is a crime, you should ensure that Mr. Durham’s current investigation into detainee interrogations encompasses the conduct and decisions of former President Bush,” says the ACLU in a letter addressed to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
According to Human Rights Watch, the U.S. government’s conduct on alleged torture of its detainees sends an “ugly message” to the international community. “It sends the ugly message that there are no legal consequences in the United States for committing the most heinous of international crimes,” said in a statement Joanne Mariner, a counter-terrorism program director at Human Rights Watch.
While the US has so far taken a lenient attitude towards those that committed or ordained human rights abuses such as torture, both Argentina and Peru have shown that it is possible to indict and punish the highest officials in the land.
In Argentina, more than 30 high ranking officials, including several members of Argentina’s military juntas, were prosecuted and sent to prison on long sentences following their indictment for human rights abuses committed while the military were in power. Among those crimes were the torture and enforced “disappearance” of prisoners.
In Peru, in 2009, former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori was sentenced to 25 years in jail for ordering killings and kidnapping by security forces. Mr. Fujimori was already serving a six-year term after being found guilty in 2007 on separate charges of abuse of power.
“Under international law, the former President’s admission to having authorized acts that amount to torture are enough t trigger the USA’s obligations to investigate his admissions and if substantiated, to prosecute him,” said Claudio Cordone, senior director at Amnesty International. And he added, “His admissions also highlighted once again the absence of accountability for the crimes under international law of torture and enforced disappearance committed by the USA.”
Regarding its request to prosecute former President Bush the ACLU stated, “The ACLU acknowledges the significance of this request, but it bears emphasis that the former President’s acknowledgement that he authorized torture is without parallel in American history. The admission cannot be ignored. In our system, no one is above the law or beyond its reach, not even a former president.”
During his recent visit to Indonesia, President Barak Obama urged the leaders of that country to acknowledge the human rights abuses of the Suharto regime. Among those abuses is the 1991 killing of over 200 East Timorese civilians in Dili, East Timor. The same principles should be applied to the conduct of former president George W. Bush. As stated by the ACLU, “A nation committed to the rule of law cannot simply ignore evidence that its most senior leaders authorized torture.”
César Chelala, MD, PhD, is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award for an article on human rights.