One-Way Accountability

July 18, 2012

One-Way Accountability

On the same question, the Chief Prosecutor said: “Accountability is important for everyone”. He pointed to the fact that under the Military Commissions Act, as revised in 2009, statements obtained under torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (as defined in US law) were no longer admissible before military commissions, and that Majid Khan would have the opportunity to raise allegations of ill-treatment at his sentencing in mitigation. The US government is bound under international law to prohibit the use of any statements obtained under torture or other ill-treatment. However, allowing Majid Khan to raise allegations of his ill-treatment in mitigation at his sentencing hearing in no way amounts to the access to the remedy that he is also entitled under international law. Moreover, while it is true that Majid Khan can raise his allegations of torture or other ill-treatment in CIA custody at his sentencing, as things currently stand, the public will not be able to hear them.

The Chief Prosecutor suggested that there was “significant investigation ongoing” into allegations of ill-treatment of detainees. Quite what he meant was unclear, because criminal investigations into the CIA secret detention program have all but been shut down by the US Department of Justice, and a yet to be released review of the CIA program by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence apparently does not have accountability as its raison d’être.   Yet in such a case, where there is a reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed, the US government is obliged to conduct a prompt and impartial investigation , but despite such claims it is not apparent that any meaningful investigation is ongoing. “Trials have meaning”, General Martins concluded, “They are very important, and they have consequences in holding people accountable”. Yet while Majid Khan has now been convicted following his guilty plea, criminal trials for those who subjected Majid Khan and others to crimes under international law in the secret detention and rendition programmes remain notable by their absence.

Torture and enforced disappearance are crimes under international law. There has still been no explicit admission from the US government that crimes were committed against this and other detainees in the CIA secret detention program despite the wealth of information about these systematic human rights violations now in the public realm.

The US government has a duty to prevent acts of terrorism, protect those threatened by such attacks, and to bring those responsible to justice. To this end, the USA or other countries are clearly entitled to prosecute the conduct admitted to by Majid Khan in relation to such attacks as serious crimes (though their prosecution in a military court as “war crimes” under the USA’s sweeping “global war” theory remains deeply flawed). However, Amnesty International is concerned that accountability and remedy for the human rights violations committed in the CIA program remain apparently as remote as ever, leaving the USA in serious breach of its international legal obligations. The US government is using secrecy to obscure victims’ and society’s collective and individual right under international law to the truth.

It is long past time for disclosure and accountability on the government side.