UN Official: Prosecute “Systematic Crimes and Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law”

Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur for counterterrorism and human rights. (UN photo)

Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur for counterterrorism and human rights. (UN photo)

Ben Emmerson is the UN’s Special Rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights. His statement released yesterday in response to the SSCI torture report points out the clear responsibilities that the US has under the Convention Against Torture and other international human rights laws to prosecute not only those who carried out torture, but those who designed the torture program and gave orders for its implementation.

Emmerson opens by noting the delay in release of the report’s summary:

I welcome the belated publication of the summary report by the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence into the crimes of torture and enforced disappearance of terrorist suspects by the Bush-era CIA. It has taken four years since the report was finalised to reach this point. The Administration is to be commended for resisting domestic pressure to suppress these important findings.

In my 2013 report* to the Human Rights Council as SpeciaI Rapporteur, I called on the US Government to release the report without further delay, and to ensure that it was published in full, without excessive and unnecessary redactions.

It seems a bit strange to me that Emmerson would commend the “administration” for “resisting domestic pressure to suppress these important findings”. We can only presume that “administration” refers to the Obama administration. It has been clear that in many instances of the struggle by the SSCI to release the report, the Obama administration has come down more on the side of the CIA than the committee. Only if the committee itself is included in Emmerson’s view of the “administration” does the comment make sense.

Emmerson then gets down to business:

The summary of the Feinstein report which was released this afternoon confirms what the international community has long believed – that there was a clear policy orchestrated at a high level within the Bush administration, which allowed to commit systematic crimes and gross violations of international human rights law.

The identities of the perpetrators, and many other details, have been redacted in the published summary report but are known to the Select Committee and to those who provided the Committee with information on the programme.

So we know that crimes have been committed. Further, the committee also knows who is responsible for those crimes. What to do about it?

It is now time to take action. 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.

The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorised at a high level within the US Government provides no excuse whatsoever. Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability.

Note the language here. Emmerson doesn’t say that those responsible for the crimes should be brought to justice. He says outright that they MUST be brought to justice. Emmerson further points out that being authorized at a high level in the government gives no protection. Further, he notes a “conspiracy” to carry out the crimes.

Emmerson then goes on to destroy Barack Obama’s “look forward” bullshit and John Durham’s coverup disguised as an investigation:

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 authorised these crimes.

As a matter of international law, 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. States are not free to maintain or permit impunity for these grave crimes.

Obama, Holder and Durham simply cannot grant immunity for these crimes. International law forbids it. More specifically, the Convention Against Torture, to which the US is a signatory, prohibits it. Similarly, the Convention on Enforced Disappearances also comes into play in the crimes committed by the US and also prevents the granting of immunity that Obama has tried to orchestrate.

Emmerson’s conclusion reiterates those points and provides a warning to those guilty of these crimes:

It is no defence 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 authorisation they were given by their superiors.

However, the heaviest penalties should be reserved for those most seriously implicated in the planning and purported authorisation of these crimes. Former Bush Administration officials who have admitted their involvement in the programme should also face criminal prosecution for their acts.

President Obama made it clear more than five years ago that the US Government recognises 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.

Torture is a crime of universal jurisdiction. The perpetrators may be prosecuted by any other country they may travel to. However, the primary responsibility for bringing them to justice rests with the US Department of Justice and the Attorney General.

Emmerson specifically calls out those who planned and authorized the torture as deserving the “heaviest penalties”.

And they need to be careful. Even though they are facing no punishment in the US for their crimes, these criminals can face prosecution should they travel abroad because torture is a crime subject to universal jurisdiction. Under universal jurisdiction, other countries would normally defer to the US for prosecution of crimes carried out by citizens of the US. However, once it is clear that no such prosecutions will take place, other countries are free to act.

Although I’d like to see them inside cells of much smaller dimensions, it appears that for now those who designed the CIA torture program and ordered its implementation are now imprisoned within the borders of the US because they are at risk of real prosecution while traveling outside the borders.

45 replies
  1. scribe says:

    The core problem is that Obama is a coward-bully, afraid of the rich and strong and cruel to the poor or weak. He signalled his cowardice by making clear early in his administration he wanted to see his daughters grow up, as clear a signal the fix was in as the Black Sox starting pitcher hitting the leadoff batter in the World Series.
    I suppose he has reason to fear the CIA would wind up putting his face on the half-dollar to replace the that of the last president to cross them, but that’s still no excuse.

  2. TarheelDem says:

    Today is International Human Rights Day, a day to reflect on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The US remains a signatory to this statement of principles of international law.

    Contrary to the US Supreme Court’s finding that the Bill of Rights is exclusively for US citizens:

    Article 30.

    Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

    For the “realists” who analyze only in terms of the power of a state to do something, this departure from principle takes one more brick of legitimate action from the Jenga pile of governmental stability in the US.

  3. RUKidding says:

    It’s “nice” of the UN, et al, to say these things. And nothing, absolutely nothing, will happen. No consequences, no perp walks, no nothing. So dicks like Cheney cannot go abroad? To quote that dick, himself: “SO????” They don’t give a sh*t about that, and frankly, if a dick like Cheney wants to go abroad, he will. He’ll “manage” it.
    King bully coward Obama will fecklessly do abso-effen-lutely nothing, as usual, other than to adjure the FOLKS that he’s got our backs… yeah: ha ha ha ha ha ha ha…
    And the sadistic perverted disgusting excrement masquerading as sub-humans are torturing people as type this. Ain’t gonna stop. Will most likely get worse. Coming soon to a town near you…. featuring your friends and neighbors… ask not who the torturer comes to torture… he comes for YOU (if you make too big of a stink).

  4. Greg Bean (@GregLBean) says:

    I think we can be pretty confident the US will not do the right thing and prosecute its war criminals, BUT, the entire world is now ready to arrest Bush and his war criminals should they step outside the US.

    When will Australia, Canada and other complicit countries’ torturers and war criminals be identified and prosecuted???

  5. Ambrellite says:

    The U.S. has a big practical reason to prosecute the officials responsible: amnesty for torturers makes it impossible to guarantee to our allies that detainees they send to us won’t be tortured. The program may have ended, but if all it takes is the stroke of the president’s pen to restart it, then our allies have the legal obligation to ensure the safety of terror suspects they capture by withholding them from us. Given what we are still doing to detainees (which arguably amounts to torture), our latitude to freely prosecute the war on terror can and should be severely restricted.

  6. Greg Bean (@GregLBean) says:

    As a follow on to my prior post, it would be interesting to see a list of countries, and individuals in each, that can be identified as complicit and due for prosecution.
    Any ideas on how such a list could be complied? Anyone?

  7. What Constitution? says:

    Holy shit.

    TORTURE IS NOT A POLICY CHOICE, IT IS A CRIME. Pretending it is a policy choice eviscerates society’s ability to deter it as a crime — and that is exactly the reason that its criminality may not be ignored or denied and international law compels its prosecution. That includes international prosecution of Americans for treating it as a policy choice.

    “It worked” is not a defense. “I vas only following ze orders” is not a defense. “The world situation was dangerous as usual” (with apologies to Tom Robbins) is not a defense. All of those things are the very reason why torture is an international crime against humanity — they provide absolutely no justification for the people in the US who continue to suggest that the conduct exposed in the Senate Report is the result of “political motivation”. These people have no shame. The people suggesting Obama should not prosecute American torturers because they acted out of “policy” and not for “person gain” (I’m talking to you, Eric Posner) are delusionally cowardly. The suggestion of the ACLU’s president that Obama should “pardon” those Americans who orchestrated and engaged in torture is a perhaps understandable effort to mitigate the disastrous consequences of our collective cowardice in the face of these disclosures — but it fails precisely because of the international scope of the crimes disclosed, a scope which pardoning for “crimes against the United States” does not approach.

    It’s a sad, sad day. It’s not a day for surrender to the mendacity. It’s a day for insisting upon recognition and enforcement of the Rule of Law. In America. By Americans. For our Constitution.

  8. lefty665 says:

    We wonder why grand juries won’t indict for police killings. The model is set at the top. The state acts with impunity. The fish rots from the head.

  9. Katheen says:

    Watched and listened to Senator Rockefeller’s statements about the report. While he talked about how he had pushed for the report, talked about how the CIA hid behind the claims that they had informed congress of what was going on by tying the hands of “Gang of 4…8” by demanding that they not talk about the CIA’s briefs about the “program” even with one another. Rockefeller indicated that we should “learn from these mistakes” and inferred we should “move forward” as a nation and make sure that US torture should never take place in the future. I too am so tired of the “move forward” bullshit. We hear MSM host, US officials including Obama use this bs “move forward” “don’t be about retribution”..”next chapter”….hooey when ever it comes to holding the Bush administration warmonger accountable. Enough

  10. TarheelDem says:

    I heard rumors that Mark Udall spoke to the US Senate today. Has the coup become transparent? Or did he drop a document into the hopper by reference? And where is a transcript? Looking for his reported call for Brennan’s resignation to disappear down the memory hole quickly.

    And Joan Walsh has a Salon piece on the issue of governmental legitimacy. Some stuff is moving mainstream pretty rapidly.

    • P J Evans says:

      He did, but he didn’t drop anything in the hopper. Called out people and actions. but didn’t go as far as he should have.

    • kathleen says:

      So many officials saying ” admitting our mistakes is what makes the US so different” so honorable, so good yada yada. Then all of this “move forward”…”next chapter” bullshit. The same twisted hooey used by the Obama administration etc when met with demands to hold the Bush administration accountable for hundreds of thousands dead in Iraq, displaced, injured all as a consequence of the invasion based on a “pack of lies” Move on you peasants that might be paying attention a bit right now. Move on and pay attention to the local and petty crimes being committed in your towns, cities etc that people are thrown in prison for years for. No need to pay attention to these “torture” crimes used to extract false claims from those tortured about Iraq being connected to the 9/11 attacks. Torture used to force tortured individuals to add to the pile of Iraq has WMD’s claims. “Move on” they say even though our Reps found it necessary to investigate a President who lied under oath about blow jobs and was then impeached but have not held the Bush administration accountable for an unnecessary and immoral invasion, torture. “Move on” when it comes to demanding that war criminals be held accountable. Millions of us want prosecutions for these very serious crimes against humanity

  11. please says:

    @jim @emptywheel

    What do you think are the chance an outgoing senator will still read the report into the public? Do you think there’s still a chance for that given the reactions so far?

  12. TheraP says:

    Thank you, Jim!

    Unless and until the perpetrators, those who authorized, signed off on, designed and profited from torture are handed over to a justice they denied their victims, we as a nation are mired in shame.

    When Obama failed to order arrests of perpetrators, he lost me.

    Lack of moral courage is this nation’s greatest enemy.

  13. TheraP says:

    To my mind this issue of torture is bound up with police brutality here at home. If citizens can be assassinated on American streets, can we ever truly refrain from torture abroad? These things are connected. Executing our own cutizens without prosecution of police is the same as torturing someone without legal consequences.

    • bevin says:

      Yes, the issue of impunity is indivisible: if a policeman in New York may kill a man in a chokehold, without fear of prosecution why should not a jailer in Bagram beat a taxi driver to death?
      The truth is that What Constitution makes a false dichotomy: torture is both a crime and a policy choice. And the electorate, not entirely consciously and after all manner of trickery by the criminally inclined political class, has chosen to endorse, by re-election, those who promote impunity for torturers, anal feeding artistes and their supervisors. Despite the widespread knowledge that this torture report existed and contained horrible information both the House and Senate are run by men pledged in the recent election, to suppress the report and protect the guiltiest criminals.
      It is one of the most notable features of the current political scene that those who represent the most abused and unjustly treated sections of American society have no objection to drone assassination policies whose equivalent in St Louis county would be for the police to be employing weapons which kill dozens at a time.
      If the President of the United States can, with impunity, order the killing a crowd of civilians in Yemen, on the ground that one among them is rumoured to be ill disposed towards the USA, why should not a police officer in Cleveland shoot a 12 year old boy or an officer in New York choke an old man to death?
      The truth is that the two cops have a much more reasonable claim to have acted out of fear than the President, whose actions are in both domestic and international law, without a doubt, illegal.

      • RUKidding says:

        Yes, agree with all you say and more. The issue of not only the acceptance of torture, but also knowing about & most likely agreeing with it, is closely bound up with a host of other issues, such as police murders of innocent citizens (and getting away it with impunity), Obama’s drone hit lists that killed most likely thousands of innocent citizens in far-away lands, like Yemen & Afghanistan, often going to weddings and funerals (so conveniently in a large group – making for a nifty, economical and efficient target).
        With grave reservations, I voted for Obama in 2008, but I rapidly saw through his empty suited flim-flam act. It continues to amaze me how a significant cohort of the citizens refuse to stay grounded in reality and continue to venerate Obama as some sort of sainted “great guy,” who’s forced to do bad things only because of the GOP. One person I know was mouthing such nonsense to me just the other day. I had to leave the room.
        Obama is no better than W & Cheney, and in fact, IMO, is worse because he KNOWS d*mn well what’s going on, plus he was in charge of continuing W’s dirty little wars, droning innocent civilians at will, starting large and small wars across the middle east & Africa (and who knows where else). The man is a despicable traitor, amongst many other epithets.
        Torture may well be the least of it. While this report is “fresh,” it’s understandable that there would be focus on it. So be it. But many of us already knew all about this – for YEARS – a lot of what’s been released has been common knowledge if you took a little time (not much) to look for it.
        Of course, the propaganda media – owned & carefully controlled by the 1% – will do it’s typical Kabuki Show and toss all sorts of red meat to various bases to distract them & baffle with b.s.
        But after all the flapping & twirling ends, nothing much will change. Citizens will shrug their shoulders, look the other way and refuse to connect the dots.
        Indeed the heavily armed and militarized US PDs have more of an “excuse” of calling out a fear factor for their murders… there is the tiniest of shreds of possibility that the cops coulda felt threatened, but of course, NOW they ALL know without a shadow of a doubt that should they murder an innocent, there will be no consequences for them, and they’ll continue to walk free & draw their paychecks.
        And the same is true and more of W, Cheney, Obama, Holder, Biden, DiFi (who knew everything the lying crook but took the Sgt Schulz defense), etc. They’re all richer than God, and they stand to become even richer by fluffing and sucking up to the global 1% and continuing to permit this venal criminal disgusting behavior – droning, wars, murders, torture – to continue apace and get even worse.
        Count on it. Who’s to stop this? How? The UN? Don’t make me laugh.

  14. orionATL says:

    looks to me like the white house just took revenge on the cia for its perfidy. you can’t tell me the white house/ president did not anticipate this scenario (involving a u.n. call for prosecution) as a possiblity over the last several months. perhaps this scenario is how the presidency will remain protected.

  15. Nick says:

    Maybe foreign countries can seize bank accounts of those involved? It could be used as reparation to the victims families I suppose

    • galljdaj says:

      You certainly are on the right track Nick, And. The UN Peoples need to total up the US SANCTIONS IMPOSED ON OTHERS, and then multiply it by 100, and take another look to see if that’s enough, maybe another 100 times, and require the USA to turn over the lil bush gang and the lil obama gang to the ICC!

      And then the sanctions can begin, ‘nothing into the USA AND ISRAEL, nothing out until the gangs (both countries) are sitting in the ICC Jailhouse!

  16. P J Evans says:

    Holder is refusing to do anything about it. In other words, it’s like Wall Street: so big and obvious a problem that he’d rather see the entire country warped around it than even start trying to fix it.

    Fuck him, and all the other enablers.

  17. galljdaj says:


    So, Mr. Emmerson’s ‘caution’ to these criminals extends to being kidnapped by anybody that’s a victim, even those of us that have suffered devaluation to pay for the crimes makes most Americans victims also along with those of us that gave their lives in death and or injury!

  18. Jonf says:

    We are fast becoming a pariah country. I am making my list for the democratic candidates for President:
    1 Will you prosecute any of those involved in this torture? If not why not?
    2 Will you investigate Gitmo and the use of drones and take appropriate actions?
    3 Will you endeavor to pass all or part of Bernie Sander’s 12 point plan to restore prosperity?
    4 What wars will you support and for what reason and how long?
    5 What is your position on Ukraine?
    6 What will you do about the NSA and surveillance?
    Work in progress.

    • Jo6pac says:

      Fast becoming? We have been here for awhile it’s just now becoming to the point they no longer hide it.

      Please give up on the demodog party, it time to move to a party that you might believe in. It’s not about giving your vote to someone that can’t win but someone that could win if we all vote for that person.

      I vote Green but that just me

  19. liberalrob says:

    Shorter United States Political Class:

    “Mr. Emmerson has asserted his ‘international law.’ Now let him enforce it.”

    • galljdaj says:

      I believe Roosevelt had it right, “I agree with you, now go out and make me do it!”

      We have to take over DC, and pack virtually the whole dam bunch and take them to the ICC! All three branches of Our Govt are corrupt! So we have to do it!

      Too many won’t get off their ass yet! That’s why I suggest the World Peoples Boycott the US AND Israel until all the war crimes have been taken to the ICC AND ARE BOARDED IN ITS JAILHOUSE!

      Then we can elect a new Govt!

  20. Evangelista says:

    I would not look for anything to happen in the torture program prosecution realm real soon, but the call for prosecution under international law agreed to in formation of a United Nations given jurisdiction, which, since Nuremberg is demonstrated, meaning precedented, jurisdiction, is interesting. In part it is interesting because, while it will undoubtedly be recognized that some smaller nations had no choices, or were unwilling participants, it will be hard for the United States, a founder and primary advocate for absolute line-of-law justice, to dodge or evade its own insistance on saucing others gooses constituting agreement to be sauced as it wouold sauce, itself.

    In part it is interesting for the “developments”, meaning abuses, accepted, abetted, excused and even in some cases put through by the United States, which for the now defendant’s condonement are certainly precedent in situations involving the defendant. Among these are “extraordinary renditioning”, aka kidnapping, which may now be undertaken by others and against any defendant party in the United States, including presidents and vicepresidents, and even congressional personnel wh approved, at the higher levels. Any participants at lower.

    Also adding interest is that persons in the United States who shelter, harbor or shield will become guilty of accessory aid and abettment. This means that if Holder, for example, looks the other way, he becomes a criminal participant, and that if a team raids Bush’s or Chenney’s residence to extradite either one, any secret service guard detail on duty would have to choose between the controlling (international) law or his job.

    Since almost all of the current (enofficed in the 21st century) Commercial United States political leadership is complicit, the whole of the “new-form” national government could be up for legal removal to an international prison.

    I imagine that Cuba might be willing to allow its Guantanamo to be used by the UN, to incarcerate the offenders, since the present tenants have the place all set up and not even needing un-mothballed.

  21. tjallen says:

    I wonder if a US citizen could do a citizen’s arrest of one of the minor characters (because the major characters still have SS protection!) – for example Yoo at a lecture or Powell at a fundraiser. I guess they would have to take the person to a foreign embassy, since no US police or army unit would do the right thing. I suspect the Spanish embassy might be a good choice (except some spanish officials are also complicit).

    Is it more likely that a foreign nation would kidnap some minor player, hold them at an embassy, and rendition them by secret diplomatic flight? (how ironic would that be?)

    So most likely will be a trial in absentia, and we should be looking over the trials of Kissinger or the other Vietnam-era in absentia prosecutions of US officials, Bertram Russell’s tribunals, or something like that. Here is a link to the Russell Tribunals – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell_Tribunal

  22. DWBartoo says:

    Thank you, Jim, for this post.

    Here, in this place of “indispensable exceptionalism”,
    Poverty is a crime … yet torture is not.
    Let us loudly proclaim the purity of our innocence.
    While we rest assured that our example inspires …
    Any evil that we need embrace is necessary,
    For we are God’s chosen ones.
    We do no wrong, only right …


  23. William C Wesley says:

    Torture is a form of sexual perversion, it is not a form of interrogation, the victim is merely a prop in the rapists fantasies. Its purpose is to bond the torturer to their “unit”, this ensures absolute loyalty to a group mentality no matter how unethical the group leaders, no matter what the personal misgivings. All crime lords use the same methods to bond initiates to the group, you must hurt someone to gain entry. Every empire in world history that adopted torture on a mass scale was destroyed by it in direct proportion. Both Germany and Japan of the 40’s, who’s racist fascism endorsed torture on a mass scale, saw the entire generation that adopted such ideology largely exterminated and yet today these countries seem better off for it. Spain was once a world power until the grand inquisition brought on mass torture and rampant pedophilia (most “witches” were Jewish children), Today it is evident Spain will never again be a world power, the Roman Empire was weakened by its own sadistic tendencies until it was destroyed. There are always many secret perverts who relish the idea of imposing torture on anyone they have an excuse to perform it on, they will eagerly step forward to carry out perverted acts because it turns them on. The Roman empires games were described by writers of the time as a means of sexual excitement for both men women and even children, Americas exceedingly sadistic movies have allowed Americans to experience the same “benefits”as those of the Roman arena, they have become perverts who relish seeing the suffering of others.

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