The year 2006 will be remembered as one in which the American people and the world rose up to challenge the criminal actions and deceit of the Bush Administration.
Despite massive evidence that top Administration officials have been complicit in systematic violations of national and international law through aggressive war, illegal occupation, rendition and detention of terror suspects without trial, secret prisons and torture, so far they have not been held accountable. Now a diverse array of forces is contesting Bush Administration impunity for war crimes and trying to reassert the rule of law over the executive branch. Each is operating in different arenas and pursuing different kinds of accountability–from public shaming and political disempowerment to international isolation and even criminal prosecution. While all of these initiatives have been reported in the press, their convergence is one of the great underreported stories of 2006. For example:
â€¢A court in
â€¢ An international team of lawyers brought a criminal complaint in a German court alleging that former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and eleven other top
â€¢ Senator Patrick Leahy, incoming Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, said he will issue subpoenas if necessary to secure Bush Administration documents that may have authorized torture.
Here are some of the arenas in which accountability for Bush Administration war crimes is being pursued:
The exposure of foreign governments’ role in Bush Administration “war on terror” abuses has led to condemnation and legal action both against US intelligence operations and the governments that may have participated in their clandestine activities.
The German Parliament is investigating the involvement of German intelligence services in the rendition of German citizen Khaled el-Masri, who, according to an ACLU suit in
The rendition issue is beginning to have a political impact. Five days before the general election in the
Also in November, a complaint initiated by German human rights lawyers in cooperation with the US Center for Constitutional Rights under the doctrine of “universal jurisdiction” asked the German federal prosecutor to indict Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales and other key Bush Administration figures for war crimes. The complaint utilized the recent passage of the US Military Commissions Act as evidence that the Bush Administration intended to immunize itself from any possibility of prosecution, even for the most heinous crimes.
Devastating testimony to an official British inquiry from Carne Ross,
Perhaps the most unexpected charges of war crimes have come from within the military and other parts of the national security bureaucracy. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s top aide, Colonel Larry Wilkerson, told CNN late last year that the
Some lower-level military personnel have begun refusing to serve in
In a telephone news conference in November, Watada made explicit the tie between his refusal to go to Iraq and the need for official accountability: “The reason I spoke out, I saw that what was being done in terms of this war was so illegal and so immoral, and not being checked. It was a danger to our troops and a danger to our country. So, I think what needs to be done is some kind of accountability in
US Legal Establishment
In this summer’s Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision–which
The Bush Administration has vigorously fought the Hamdan decision and its consequences. It tried to virtually nullify it with provisions slipped into the Military Commissions Act of 2006. It is now using those provisions to resist in court even the most minimal protections for its captives, such as the right to talk with their lawyers. Interpretation of the Hamdan decision and the Military Commissions Act is now being fought out in the courts; for example, a federal judge just ruled in support of the MCA’s ban on habeas corpus appeals for GuantÃ¡namo captives but declared its effort to apply that ban to legal immigrants is unconstitutional.
The Bush Administration is facing a powerful counterattack on behalf of the rule of law. For example, seven retired federal judges from both parties joined GuantÃ¡namo detainees in urging an appeals court to declare key parts of the Military Commissions Act unconstitutional. Similarly, a bipartisan group of former Justice Department officials, including former Attorney General Janet Reno, recently filed court papers rejecting the government’s claim that it can hold putative enemy combatants arrested in the
For the last six years, the Republican-controlled Congress has been the great enabler of Bush Administration’s efforts to subvert the Constitution. There will likely be investigations of Bush Administration malfeasance by the incoming Democratic Congress. Just how far they are likely to go is unclear–and highly contested.
Key leaders of the new Democratic majority have pledged to open investigations. Incoming Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy recently wrote in a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, “The photographs and reports of prisoner abuse in
Incoming Senate majority leader Harry Reid told the New York Times that “the first order of business” when Democrats take over in January will be to reinvigorate Congressional scrutiny of the executive branch, with a focus on
Senator Jay Rockefeller has promised to complete the Senate Intelligence Committee’s stalled investigation of the political misuse of intelligence in the lead-up to the Iraq War. Senator Carl Levin says he plans to investigate “extraordinary rendition.”
On the House side, Representative Dennis Kucinich, likely chair of the Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations, has called for hearings on
Beyond investigations, there will undoubtedly be efforts to strengthen the barriers to war crimes through legislation. Senator Chris Dodd of
Human rights groups, from the Center for Constitutional Rights to the ACLU, have led the way in challenging the legality of Bush Administration actions. Hundreds of lawyers from major corporate firms have joined the defense of the GuantÃ¡namo captives. Religious groups have formed a National Religious Campaign Against Torture; an affiliated group in Connecticut called Reclaiming the Prophetic Voice successfully projected the issue of prisoner abuse at GuantÃ¡namo and elsewhere into the Congressional elections–even putting up billboards on major highways identifying those in the state’s Congressional delegation who had voted to “allow torture” through the Military Commissions Act.
Some on the left have long called for prosecution of top
Each of these initiatives is occurring in a different arena, with its own protagonists, strategies, targets and timetables. But striking synergies are emerging:
â€¢ The suits against Rumsfeld and other policymakers would not have been possible without the ACLU Freedom of Information Act suits that revealed the role of top officials in setting the rules for GuantÃ¡namo and Abu Ghraib.
â€¢ The 2005 leak in
â€¢ Congressional interest in restoring the War Crimes Act has been substantially strengthened by the Supreme Court’s forthright stand in the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case.
â€¢ The Senate Judiciary Committee’s expected investigation of “rendition” will rely on the work of European human rights “plane spotters” who uncovered the CIA’s phantom jets secretly landing and taking off at their countries’ airports.
As the new year unfolds, there are no guarantees that the Bush Administration will be held accountable for its abuse of executive power or for the war crimes it has committed. Its war in