US will hold torturers fully accountable

Posted in Uncategorized by Ryan Locke on January 13, 2009

says Ryan.

Charles Emmanuel, the son of a former president of Liberia, was sentenced to 97 years in prison last week by a US District Court for committing torture in Liberia.  He was the head of a paramilitary group that tortured and killed opponents of his father during his father’s presidency.

Emmanuel is the first person to be convicted under the 1994 federal anti-torture statute that permits US federal courts to charge US citizens or those present in the US for acts of torture committed abroad.  Emmanuel is a US citizen (he was born in Boston) and was arrested while in the US.

Prosecutors said that between 1999 and 2003, Taylor and his forces tortured captives who opposed his father’s rule by burning them with cigarettes, dripping molten wax or plastic on them, confining them naked in pits covered with iron bars and shoveling stinging ants on them.

He also:

committed numerous and varied forms of torture, including burning victims with molten plastic, lit cigarettes, scalding water, candle wax and an iron; severely beating victims with firearms; cutting and stabbing victims; and shocking victims with an electric device.

So this was a big win for the good guys.  Executive Assistant Director Arthur M. Cummings, II, of the FBI National Security Division, said this:

This sentence sends a resounding message that torture will not be tolerated here at home or by U.S. nationals abroad.  The FBI and our law enforcement partners will continue to investigate such acts wherever they occur.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Matthew Freidrich of the US Department of Justice Criminal Division said of the sentence:

Our message to human rights violators, no matter where they are, remains the same: We will use the full reach of U.S. law, and every lawful resource at the disposal of our investigators and prosecutors, to hold you fully accountable for your crimes.

So torture isn’t tolerated at home and the DOJ will use the full reach of U.S. law to hold torturers accountable? Dahlia Lithwick tells them to put their money where their mouth is:

Those who say that there should be no investigation or prosecution of senior officials who authorized torture and warrant-less surveillance rarely even bother offering legal justifications. They argue that the Obama administration has more urgent problems to contend with. They insist that any such process would devolve into partisan backbiting from which this country could never recover. And they insist, as did Attorney General Michael Mukasey in early December, that there is no basis on which to prosecute the architects of torture and wiretapping policies because each was acting to “protect the security in the country and in the belief that he or she was doing something lawful.”

Others — including unnamed officials on the Obama transition team — have already claimed that there is simply no political will for criminal prosecutions, or even a truth commission.

Of course all this is not the language of the law either. It is the language of self-fulfilling prophecy. With each successive recitation that there is no political will, the political will dissipates. With each repetition of the mantra that Americans just want to turn the page on the past eight years, Americans feel ever better about turning the page.

And why wouldn’t we? We aren’t merely forgiving Mr. Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney (who admitted in December to approving torture techniques) and others for their actions. We are also forgiving ourselves. We are telling ourselves that what happened at Abu Ghraib is behind us, and that what happened at C.I.A. black sites is over. We are telling ourselves that bad people did bad things under bad circumstances, but that it’s better to forgive and forget, that we are really truly sorry and it won’t happen again. We sound like a nation of drunks after a bender. We are full of good intentions, but unwilling to hold ourselves to account.


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