Thursday, January 15, 2009

Implications of torture

Two follow-ups on Judge Crawford's statement that she had dropped charges against Mohammed al-Qahtani because she had concluded that he had been tortured.

The New York Times hosts an on-line symposium on the topic, with responses ranging from a call for further investigations and prosecution of the torturers
It is not enough to drop criminal charges against the torture victims, as Ms. Crawford did. Indeed, if wrongdoers can be prosecuted without reliance on coerced evidence, they should be. Rather, we must hold the torturers accountable. To date, not a single high-level military or administration official has been deemed responsible for the torture policy – even though it was specifically authorized by Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and many others in the highest levels of the Bush Cabinet and executive branch.
to claims that the conduct has been blown out of proportion
Ms. Crawford’s conclusion is another instance of the military getting it wrong. Isolation and temperature variations of the type we are talking about here are not torture. To contend otherwise is to trivialize something that is truly heinous. It may be politically correct, but it is wrong. American law has always maintained a bright line between the egregious pain and suffering caused by actual torture and other forms of abusive conduct. Ms. Crawford’s suggestion that abusive conduct that has a "medical impact" meets the “legal definition of torture” is preposterous.
Over at, Dahlia Lithwick and Phillipe Sands argue that the U.S. has now passed a critical turning point
Under the 1984 Torture Convention, its 146 state parties (including the United States) are under an obligation to "ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law." These states must take any person alleged to have committed torture (or been complicit or participated in an act of torture) who is present in their territories into custody. The convention allows no exceptions, as Gen. Pinochet discovered in 1998. The state party to the Torture Convention must then submit the case to its competent authorities for prosecution or extradition for prosecution in another country.

The former chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces and general counsel for the Department of the Army has spoken. Her clear words have been picked up around the world. And that takes the prospects of accountability and criminal investigation onto another level. For the Obama administration, the door to the do-nothing option is now closed. That is why today may come to be seen as the turning point.
Regrettably for our country, Lithwick and Sands have it right. An allegation of heinous and illegal behavior by a credible and knowledgeable official requires investigation.