US must prosecute both authorizers and perpetrators of torture: UN expert
The Obama administration is obliged by international law to conduct criminal prosecutions against all those who perpetrated or authorized torture, a top United Nations expert said in reaction to the summary Feinstein report on crimes committed by the Bush-era CIA.
Ben Emmerson, the independent British Special Rapporteur on counter terrorism and human rights, said, “International law prohibits the granting of immunities to public officials who have engaged in acts of torture. This applies not only to the actual perpetrators but also to those senior officials within the US Government who devised, planned and authorized these crimes.”
“The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorized at a high level within the US Government provides no excuse whatsoever. Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability.”
“The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes.”
Prosecution should not be problematic because the Senate Committee members know the perpetrators’ identities and many other details that were redacted.
“It is no defense for a public official to claim that they were acting on superior orders. CIA officers who physically committed acts of torture therefore bear individual criminal responsibility for their conduct, and cannot hide behind the authorization they were given by their superiors,” Emmerson added.
Former Bush Administration officials who have admitted their involvement in the program should also face criminal prosecution. Those most seriously implicated in the planning and authorization of torture should face the heaviest penalties.
Under international law, “governments are not free to maintain or permit impunity for such grave crimes”.
The US is legally obliged to bring those responsible to justice. The UN Convention Against Torture and the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances require States to prosecute acts of torture and enforced disappearance where there is sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction.
President Barack Obama made it clear more than five years ago that the US Government recognizes the use of waterboarding as torture. “There is therefore no excuse for shielding the perpetrators from justice any longer. The US Attorney General is under a legal duty to bring criminal charges against those responsible,” Emmerson insisted.
Since torture is a crime of universal jurisdiction, the perpetrators may be prosecuted by any other country they may travel to if the US refuses to conduct criminal prosecutions.
However, the primary responsibility for bringing them to justice rests with the US Department of Justice and the Attorney General.