No Comment — January 19, 2009, 1:58 pm

Overseas, Expectations Build for Torture Prosecutions

America’s closest allies overseas never understood the Bush Administration’s obsession with torture. “It’s as if an old friend had a stroke and suddenly went delusional,” a British Tory politician told me. And as the final hours of the Bush presidency tick down, the expectation builds in Europe that Obama will do the right thing. That would, of course, be to prosecute the Bush Administration figures responsible for introducing torture as a matter of formal policy. As they all point out, this is what the United States formally committed to do when it adopted the Convention Against Torture, which was largely the product of American advocacy to begin with.

From a column published today in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Germany’s leading news daily (my translation):

The departing American president is leaving his successor not only foreign and domestic problems, but also a perplexing juridical legacy. During the election campaign the question was already being debated: how would the Obama administration act with respect to the prosecution of Bush Administration figures involved in the torture of suspects held in the war on terror. In April 2008, Obama stated that after a thorough investigation of the facts by the Justice Department a decision would be reached as to whether this was simply stupid policy or something more sinister which approached the level of criminal conduct. In his latest interview with ABC, he clarified that with respect to national security matters he would rather look forward than backwards into the past. However, he noted, if someone had broken the law, this would have consequences since no one stands above the law.

No matter how things proceed, this marks a break with the prior broad public debate and with Obama’s prior comments. For the first time in U.S. history serious political and legal attention is being dedicated to whether a departing president and his administration have committed crimes of torture and whether individuals should be held to account under criminal law. This is noteworthy and laudable.

In the leading Francophone daily of Belgium, Le Soir, the paper offers several pages of analysis of the basis for a criminal prosecution of Bush administration figures on account of their introduction of torture policies, under the banner headline “Bush Faces Possible Prosecution.”

In France, public radio offers a detailed dissection of a potential criminal prosecution of Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush Administration officials through an interview with Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights. (I was also interviewed for the program.)

Barack Obama and his advisors need to recognize that the prosecutions will occur. The only issue now is whether America will face the additional humiliation of having the prosecutions brought by our closest allies because we lack the moral strength and resolve ourselves to do what is necessary.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

April 2017

You Can Run …

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Never Would I Ever

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The March on Everywhere

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Defender of the Community

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Echt Deutsch

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Boy Without a Country

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The March on Everywhere·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Photograph (detail) © Nima Taradji/Polaris
Post
The Forty-Fifth President·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Photograph (detail) by Philip Montgomery
Article
Defender of the Community·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Illustration (detail) by Katherine Streeter
Article
The Boy Without a Country·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Illustration (detail) by Shonagh Rae
Article
Asphalt Gardens·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In a city that is rapidly pricing out the poor, NYCHA’s housing projects are a last bastion of affordable shelter, with an average monthly rent of $509
Photograph (detail) © Samuel James

Amount three New York men owe in restitution for stealing rock lobsters off the coast of South Africa:

$54,900,000

AIDS researchers were working to develop genetically modified tomatoes that naturally produce an edible HIV vaccine.

Trump said that he might not have been elected president “if it wasn’t for Twitter."

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Who Goes Nazi?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."

Subscribe Today