Daphne Eviatar Q&A on Facebook

Last week, Daphne Eviatar took time to answer user questions via the Human Rights First Facebook Page.  She recently attended the Senate Judiciary committee hearing on the investigation into memos the Justice Department sent authorizing the torture of detainees during the Bush administration.

Here is the conversation as it happened on Facebook:

Q: In your blog you wrote “Under strong questioning from Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Grindler did promise to look into the mysterious disappearance of John Yoo’s and Patrick Philbin’s e-mails, which Office of Professional Responsibility investigators noted “hampered” their investigation. After all, government … See Moreofficials are legally required by law to maintain their official e-mails, as Leahy reminded Grindler, picking up a copy of the U.S. Code.”

For those unfamiliar with the issue – can you elaborate a bit on the missing emails?

A: Yes, well that was the highlight of the hearing! In the OPR report, the investigators mention that one small problem with their investigation was that ALL of John Yoo’s e-mails had been deleted. Whoops!

So Leahy’s now insisting that DOJ try to find out what happened to them, and if Yoo broke a law (another one, I mean).

Q: Sarah Phillips wrote: What can we do to ensure that someone is actually held accountable and prevent something like this from happening in the future?

A: I think it’s important to keep the heat on the judiciary committee and the DOJ to insist that the disappearance of these e-mails be investigated. It may be the only way to keep even some small part of this investigation alive.

Another way to force an investigation is to pressure President Obama and Congress to appoint an independent, nonpartisan commission — kind of like the 9/11 commission — to investigate the full story of what really happened. There’s strong precedent in the US for doing that, and it takes it away from the politicians, so the outcome isn’t politicized.

Q: Celia Morgan wrote: They are the bottom of Bush’s National Ocean Preserve with the rest of the missing GOP e mails.  How do we go The Hague and beg for assistance?

A: Celia, I wish there was a way to go to the Hague, but the US has not signed on to the International Criminal Court, so there’s no way any case would be brought there. However, some other countries, such as Spain, do have prosecutors who are looking into whether US officials during the Bush administration broke laws, like the anti-torture laws. That’s a start.

Q: Cody Merritt wrote: Hi Daphne. Do you think that there is hope the “Commission of Inquiry” will gain some momentum?

A: I think Cody and I were writing at the same time — and thinking along the same lines. Yes, it’s a possibility, but it needs political momentum… some real public pressure.

Q: Scott Nicolson wrote: ^This is an excellent question. This isn’t just a matter of U.S law – these are violations of international law we’re talking about. As I understand it, we are legally obligated to investigate and prosecute torture by virtue of the treaties to which we are a part. Does this not mean that, if the DoJ and/or Senate refuse to do so, that means that … See Morethey are all in violation of international law? Are they not *concerned* about this?

And last I heard, Spanish courts are pressing on with investigations into allegations of torture. The UK’s ongoing investigations into the Iraq debacle are interesting too. How embarrassing would it be if other nations or bodies had to investigate and prosecute because we don’t have the “political will” to do so – or whatever excuse the Powers That Be would like to make this time….

A: Scott, you’re absolutely right. It’s very embarrassing. At least to us. But what’s amazing is that the Justice Department, the president, and most members of Congress don’t seem concerned enough about it to insist on an investigation. But yes, it’s a violation of the Convention Against Torture and domestic laws implementing it. And if you read the … See Morefinal OPR report that was issued, you realize just how flimsy and preposterous were the legal justifications that John Yoo and Jay Bybee made up to say it was all legal.

It’s funny, when I read the OPR report, I was both incredibly proud that the Justice Dept put together this exhaustive investigation, analyzing the completely twisted legal reasoning of their own lawyers, AND thoroughly disappointed that the lawyers’ conduct was still not considered “professional misconduct” let alone criminal conduct. But then, the DOJ report wasn’t addressing the criminal conduct piece.

Q: Alysha Havey wrote: Is there anything that I (and everyone reading this) can do to see some justice here?

A: Alysha, I know it doesn’t sound like much, but you and everyone else can contact your representatives, and contact the Obama administration — they say they love to hear from people — and tell them what you think. Honestly, that does make a difference. Politicians do pay attention to constituent calls more than you think. Hey, look at the Tea Partyers–why let them get all the attention?

Just send them an e-mail! and I’ll see if Human Rights First can put together a petition that we can send around.

The other thing people can do is just use these sorts of online forums, blogs, etc. to get your voices heard — comment on stories you see on this issue and say what you think, because you’d be surprised at how much lawmakers pay attention to blogs and other online postings these days. They’re huge — modern politics has its problems (lots of them), but the internet is a hugely empowering tool for people.

Q: Scott Nicolson wrote: I’m not sure I understand the issue of ICC jurisdiction. According to Wikipedia, the ICC has jurisdiction in Afghanistan. It may also have jurisdiction in other nations where torture was committed on behalf of the United States, though I’m not sure.

A: Scott, that’s a great question. The ICC is very confusing. Generally, the ICC only has jurisdiction over countries that are members of the court, and the US is not a member. But you’re right that there are exceptions. For example, if the crime took place in a country that is a member, then the ICC can exercise jurisdiction over it if the country … See Morerefuses to prosecute the case itself. Or, the country is not a member, then the UN Security Council can still refer a case to the ICC. The problem is, the US has so much control over the Security Council that no case against the US would ever get referred to the ICC without the US’s consent. So as you can see, there are serious limitations to the ICC’s jurisdiction.

Q: Allyson Gavaletz wrote: Daphne – this is the first I am hearing about all this. Why isn’t this a big news story?

A: Allyson, thank you for that question! You’re absolutely right, it’s been basically buried. I think the reason is that most mainstream press just assume that the Justice Department won’t criminally investigate this case for obvious political reasons, and as a result has adopted the view that an investigation isn’t realistic, so it doesn’t matter, so… See More it’s not newsworthy… even though, as several people have pointed out here, a criminal investigation is legally required by our international obligations. So it’s basically a failure of the mainstream press.

Q: Haley Nicholson wrote: Are there any members of either the House or Senate who has strongly pursued this issue? So when we contact our members we can say whose efforts they should join?

Q: Cody Merritt wrote: Is there a strong group of Congressman that are behind some kind of inquiry? Or are people more hands off?

A: Wait, one last response to Haley and Cody: yes and no. A few key people have been strong supporters of further investigation: in the Senate, that would be Leahy, Whitehouse, Feingold and Durbin. (sorry if I’m forgetting someone else, but that’s who comes to mind.) In the House, Nadler and Conyers have been very strong on this too. Conyers introduced legislation for a commission that seemed very strong. Do push them to take this further, they definitely need to hear from supporters that people care!

We have a petition running for a commission to get the truth about past abuses. Sign that here: http://bit.ly/cFw0rM and we’ll soon be in touch with further actions you can take!

Thanks for participating in our chat!

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Published on March 7, 2010

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