Investigation, Prosecution, Remedy: Accountability For Human Rights Violations In The War On Terror


Investigation, Prosecution, Remedy: Accountability For Human Rights Violations In The War On Terror

USA: Investigation, Prosecution, Remedy

Accountability For Human Rights Violations In The 'War On Terror'

4 December 2008


AI Index: AMR 51/151/2008

1. Truth and accountability are rule of law principles

After photographic evidence of torture and other ill-treatment by US personnel in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq became public in 2004, President George W. Bush not only said that the actions of the perpetrators did "not represent the values of the United States of America"1, but also that it was "important to understand that in a democracy"


"there will be a full investigation... The system will be transparent, it will be open and people will see the results... The world will see the investigation and justice will be served... In other words, people want to know the truth. That stands in contrast to dictatorships. A dictator wouldn't be answering questions about this. A dictator wouldn't be saying that the system will be investigated and the world will see the results of the investigation."2


A few days later, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said:


"Friends of freedom will understand that it is a virtue of our system that the president and the most senior officials take responsibility for and are involved in seeing that the punishment for such violations of human rights occur. That stands in stark contrast to the many parts of the world where governments use torture or collude in it and do not express shock or dismay, nor do they apologize when it's uncovered."3

Four and a half years later, as President Bush's term in office comes to an end, official US assurances of full accountability for human rights violations, like the assurances that all detainees in US custody in the "war on terror" would be treated humanely, ring hollow. The violations committed by US personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo and elsewhere have been many and varied. They have included enforced disappearance, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (in some cases resulting in death in custody), prolonged incommunicado detention as well as other forms of arbitrary and indefinite detention, secret international transfers of detainees without due process ("rendition"), and flagrantly unfair trials. Official reviews of detention policies have been piecemeal, have generally lacked independence or the mandate to reach up the chain of command or outside the military, failed to interview victims, failed to apply international standards, and many of their findings remain classified as secret. Much is still un-investigated. Much is still obscured from public view. Accountability is still largely absent, as is remedy for the victims.