March 20, 2013

A Reflection on U.S. Accountability for Detainee Abuses 10 Years After the Invasion of Iraq


Five months before the invasion of Iraq in mid-March 2003, the two chambers of the United States Congress passed a joint resolution authorizing the use of force against that country. Signing the resolution into law on 16 October 2002, President George W. Bush asserted that the congressional debate had been "in the finest traditions of American democracy". A somewhat hollow tradition, it would seem, as the Bush administration considered the resolution "legally unnecessary" on the grounds that the President, as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, already had all the authority he needed.

A decade later, it seems that none of the three branches of the US government considers full accountability for war crimes and human rights violations committed by US forces in Iraq and elsewhere to be a legal requirement either. But accountability for human rights violations and real access to meaningful remedy for victims of such violations are obligations under international law, obligations that endure for all three branches of the US government.