US Refusal To Investigate Torture Lets Other Countries Do It for Us

The Supreme Court’s refusal this week to hear the claims of Maher Arar, a Canadian sent to Syria to be interrogated under torture in 2002, is appropriately being condemned as another example of the U.S. avoiding any legal or moral responsibility for government- sanctioned torture.

What seems to shock and outrage people about the Arar case in particular is that the facts are not in dispute. Canada, whose security services were complicit in his rendition to Syria, has publicly acknowledged its responsibility, compensated Arar, and launched a criminal investigation of U.S. and Syrian officials. The United States, on the other hand, has still neither admitted its role nor held any U.S. officials accountable. And, it hasn’t paid Arar a dime.

The United States’ refusal to acknowledge its role in the torture of terrorism suspects even when faced with overwhelming evidence of U.S. involvement has become an unfortunate pattern. But it’s heartening to see that other countries aren’t dropping the matter.

On Monday, the European Court of Human Rights announced that it would hear the case of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen seized by Macedonian authorities at the request of the United States. El-Masri was beaten and abused during interrogations in both Macedonia and the notorious “Salt Pit” in Afghanistan. Authorities unceremoniously dumped him on a roadside in Albania without charging him with any wrongdoing.His case against U.S. officials was dismissed by a federal court on the grounds that it would reveal “state secrets.” The Bush and Obama Administrations have both invoked State Secrets to stop the disclosure of evidence that may reveal government misconduct.

And last year, an Italian court convicted 21 alleged CIA operatives and a US air force operator for their role in the kidnapping and rendition to Egypt of Abu Omar, a Muslim cleric who was already under surveillance by Italian authorities, who suspected him of having ties to al Qaeda. Omar claims he was held incommunicado and tortured in an Egyptian prison for seven months. He was eventually released without charge.

The Obama administration has repeatedly insisted that it wants to look forward, not backward, and so has refused to examine the role of senior U.S. officials in the torture of terrorism suspects. In adopting that position, the government is reneging on its obligations under the Convention Against Torture, which demands both that torturers be held accountable and that victims receive remedies.

Until the U.S. lives up to those responsibilities, its past practices and officers will continue to be scrutinized by foreign governments and justice systems. Those verdicts will cast judgment not only on the past administration’s conduct, however. To the extent that foreign governments have to intervene to bring justice to victims of U.S. policies, they will reveal the extent of the United States’ current respect for the rule of law as well.


Published on June 16, 2010


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