Getting Away with Torture
DANNY WOOD, FREE SPEECH RADIO NEWS: A report released today by Human Rights Watch says there are grounds for President Barack Obama to order criminal investigations of former president George W. Bush, vice president Dick Cheney, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and CIA director George Tenet for ordering the use of torture, secret detention facilities, and rendition of detainees. For more on this report, called Getting Away with Torture: The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees, we turn to Andrea Prasow, senior counterterrorism counsel for Human Rights Watch. Welcome to Free Speech Radio News.
ANDREA PRASOW, SENIOR COUNTERTERRORISM COUNSEL, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: Thank you.
WOOD: Former president Bush has always justified his authorization of torture, like waterboarding, on the grounds that the Justice Department lawyers said it was legal. But you say there’s substantial information that senior administration officials, including Cheney, sought to influence the lawyers’ judgment. Can you give some examples of that information?
PRASOW: Yeah. I think it’s really important to recognize that a memo from a lawyer doesn’t make criminal conduct legal. There’s some evidence to suggest that senior administration officials first identified the torture they wanted to engage in and then sought the memos from the Justice Department lawyers. That’s simply not the way it works. The duty of a lawyer is to provide independent legal advice to his client, and that’s not what happened here.
WOOD: So on what legal basis exactly could a prosecution of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Tenet proceed here in the US, and how could it get underway?
PRASOW: War crimes. Definitely the War Crimes Act makes it possible to pursue war crimes in federal court in the US, the crime of conspiracy, conspiracy to engage in assault, abuse, all sorts of different types of conduct. When you look at what happened to some of these detainees, it’s very clear that what we would consider sort of ordinary crimes took place: they were beaten; they were sexually abused; they were threatened with violence. All of these are clear crimes under US law and can be prosecuted.
WOOD: If the US doesn’t act on these crimes and investigate them, you’ve said other countries should. How far could a case pursued somewhere like Spain, for example, which has a legal system that allows its courts to pursue international war crimes, really get?
PRASOW: You know, George Bush had a trip up to Switzerland a few months ago. And human rights activists and victims had been prepared to file a criminal complaint upon his arrival in Switzerland. And he cancelled that trip. There was a lot of publicity in advance. And it suggested that he was aware that he might actually be charged in Switzerland and therefore didn’t travel to that country. So I think that actions taken by other countries really can have an impact. Other countries need to step up if the US won’t and make it clear that torture will not be tolerated, regardless of who perpetrates it.
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