July 17 was the Day of International Criminal Justice. Established to recognize the emerging system of international justice and to commemorate the anniversary of the adoption of the Rome Statute, this day is used by countries around the world to raise support for the International Criminal Court (ICC) and to raise awareness about current global injustices. However, for victims of the Bush Administration’s secret prisons and “alternative interrogation” techniques, this day stands as a cold reminder that the international justice ideal is far from a reality.
Obama has largely ended abusive interrogation practices, but he has “failed to meet US obligations under the Convention against Torture to investigate acts of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees.” According to Human Rights Watch, the overwhelming evidence of torture under the Bush administration requires Obama to order an investigation into the mistreatment of detainees; he shows no signs of doing so. Such action, or lack of action as the case may be, could have lasting ramifications for the United States. A report from Human Rights Watch explains:
“There are solid grounds to investigate Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and [CIA Director, George] Tenet for authorizing torture and war crimes,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “President Obama has treated torture as an unfortunate policy choice rather than a crime. His decision to end abusive interrogation practices will remain easily reversible unless the legal prohibition against torture is clearly reestablished.”
Not only is the possibility of future torture left open, but the reputation of the United States is left permanently scarred in the eyes of the international community. What should nations of the world think of a country that signs onto multiple treaties opposing torture, supports the prosecution of foreign individuals and organizations shown to have engaged in torture, but shields torturers within its own borders?
According to Paul Seils, Vice President of the International Center for Transitional Justice, there are three purposes to international justice. To “reaffirm a society's shared values about basic ideas of right and wrong; restore confidence in the institutions of the state charged with protecting fundamental rights and freedoms; and recognize the human dignity of the victims of atrocities that have taken place.” The US cannot afford to lose ground on any one of these fronts.
If the US is to remain a respected international actor as well as a functioning state based on a set of common values, those who authorized the use of torture must be brought to justice. To encourage the Obama administration to take long-needed legal action against torturers, join us in speaking out. Maybe if we work together, International Justice Day next year will be an occasion to celebrate rather than mourn.