Rights groups call for war prosecutions of Bush Administration officials

A waterboarding simulation depicted in the documentary 'Torturing Democracy.'

A waterboarding simulation depicted in the documentary 'Torturing Democracy.'

Human Rights USA, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union are expected to make their case why the United States must prosecute former Bush administration officials for war crimes and grave violations of international law before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights this afternoon in Washington.

At a special hearing, leaders of each organization will present evidence and testify about why the commission — which is a body of the Organization of American States (and includes the United States) — should issue a recommendation that the United States appoint a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute war crimes such as torture and abuse of prisoners committed and authorized by senior U.S. officials in the Bush administration.

Although these organizations have called on the United States to appoint a special prosecutor before, this hearing takes that request to the international level by seeking a recommendation from a respected international commission that has frequently recommended such investigations and prosecutions in Latin American countries.

“We’re asking the commission to issue specific recommendations to the U.S. government that it conduct an investigation, reform any laws that might provide accountability or reparations . . . and undertake any other institutional reforms necessary to ensure that victims of these abuses are afforded the right to truth and justice,” said Colleen Costello, a lawyer with Human Rights USA during a conference call with reporters this morning.

While the Bush administration had largely ignored recommendations from the Inter-American Commission concerning detainees in the past by arguing that it lacked jurisdiction over U.S. government actions, the Obama administration may find it more difficult to make that case now, given that the president and his cabinet have emphasized the importance of international cooperation on enforcing human rights since taking office.

In February, for example, when the State Department released its 2008 report on human rights practices around the world, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said:

To begin, not only will we seek to live up to our ideals on American soil; we will pursue greater respect for human rights as we engage other nations and peoples around the world. Now, some of our work will be conducted in government meetings and official dialogues. That’s important to advancing our cause.

But I believe strongly we must rely on more than one approach as we strive to overcome tyranny and subjugation that weakens the human spirit, limits human possibility, and undermines human progress. We will make this a global effort that reaches beyond governments alone. I intend for us to work with nongovernmental organizations, businesses, religious leaders, schools and universities as well as individual citizens, all of whom can play a vital role in creating a world where human rights are accepted, respected, and protected.

The American public has also shown a growing interest in an investigation. A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken at the end of January found that close to two-thirds of Americans surveyed said there should be investigations into allegations that the Bush administration tortured terrorism suspects and wiretapped U.S. citizens without warrants.

The hearing before the Inter-American Commission begins at 1:15 p.m. MDT and will be webcast live at http://www.cidh.oas.org.

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