No Comment — April 22, 2009, 9:06 am

NATO Allies Preparing to Go After Bush Officials on Torture

It’s not just Spain, apparently. The Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock finds that “European prosecutors are likely to investigate CIA and Bush administration officials on suspicion of violating an international ban on torture if they are not held legally accountable at home.”

Some European countries, under a legal principle known as universal jurisdiction, have adopted laws giving themselves the authority to investigate torture, genocide and other human rights crimes anywhere in the world, even if their citizens are not involved. Although it is rare for prosecutors to win such cases, those targeted can face arrest if they travel abroad. Martin Scheinin, the U.N. special investigator for human rights and counterterrorism, said the interrogation techniques approved by the Bush administration clearly violated international law. He said the lawyers who wrote the Justice Department memos, as well as senior figures such as former vice president Richard B. Cheney, will probably face legal trouble overseas if they avoid prosecution in the United States.

One point on which the European lawyers all agree: the release on Thursday of a set of Justice Department memoranda explicitly approving a series of torture techniques including waterboarding will make prosecution in European courts into child’s play. The Europeans also all agree on another thing: the United States has a duty to investigate and prosecute these cases, and they would all prefer that it do so.

A contrary view comes in the current Newsweek from the dynamic duo of Evan Thomas and Stuart Taylor. In their last joint effort (“What Would Cheney Do?”), they attempted to persuade readers that Barack Obama was going to “do the right thing” and continue all the national security policies of Dick Cheney, starting with the use of plenty of rough stuff with prisoners. The series of pointed attacks that Cheney subsequently launched on the Obama administration well reflects the accuracy of this prediction. This week they take on Yale law dean Harold Koh, attacking his conclusion that the Iraq War was unlawful–although it’s now difficult to find international lawyers with a different view on this point, including most of those who initially supported it. For the Newsweek pair, the fact that there was no basis for the claimed threat of WMDs apparently makes no difference and can’t be allowed to stand in the way of the Bush Doctrine. This sort of thinking has little following in the country outside of a handful of Beltway chatterboxes. Koh’s real sin according to the Newsweek writers is that he “could erode American democracy and sovereignty” by supporting adherence to international law. They ridicule the notion of universal jurisdiction for war crimes. But Thomas and Taylor miss some fundamental points, starting with the fact that no nation historically has been a more enthusiastic or aggressive advocate of universal jurisdiction than the United States, a point reinforced yesterday when a Somali teenager was hauled before a federal court in New York for acts of piracy. The prohibitions on piracy and the enforcement of the laws of war are the historical lynchpins of the universal jurisdiction concept.

Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

No Comment March 28, 2014, 12:32 pm

Scott Horton Debates John Rizzo on Democracy Now!

On CIA secrecy, torture, and war-making powers

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada



September 2014

Israel and Palestine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Washington Is Burning

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On Free Will

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

They Were Awake

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content


Arab artists take up — and look past — regional politics
“When everyday life regularly throws up images of terror and drama and the technological sublime, how can a photographer compete?”
“Qalandia 2087, 2009,” by Wafa Hourani
“There was torture by the previous regime and by the current Iraqi regime,” Dr. Amin said. “Torture by our Kurdish government, torture by Syrians, torture by the U.S.”
Visiting His Own Grave © Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
The Tale of the Tape·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Heroin isn’t the weakness Art Pepper submits to; it’s the passion he revels in.”
Photograph (detail) © Laurie Pepper
The Soft-Kill Solution·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Policymakers, recognizing the growing influence of civil disobedience and riots on the direction of the nation, had already begun turning to science for a response."
Illustration by Richard Mia
New Books
New Books·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Almond insists that watching football does more than feed an appetite for violence. It’s a kind of modern-day human sacrifice, and it makes us more likely to go to war.”
Photograph by Harold Edgerton

Chance that a movie script copyrighted in the U.S. before 1925 was written by a woman:

1 in 2

Engineers funded by the United States military were working on electrical brain implants that will enable the creation of remote-controlled sharks.

Malaysian police were seeking fifteen people who appeared in an online video of the Malaysia-International Nude Sports Games 2014 Extravaganza, and Spanish police fined six Swiss tourists conducting an orgy in the back of a moving van for not wearing their seatbelts.

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


In Praise of Idleness


I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today