Dealing with Torture in the United States: No Justice, No Accountability, No Remedy

July 1, 2011, New York – Yesterday, the U.S. Justice Department announced that it will drop 99 out of 101 C.I.A. detainee torture cases that had been under preliminary review by Federal Prosecutor John Durham. While the deaths of only two detainees will lead to criminal investigations, the U.S. probe into the CIA’s interrogation, rendition and detention of detainees “is not warranted”, according to Attorney General Eric Holder. Attorney General Holder claimed that the Department of Justice has now “thoroughly examined the detainee treatment issue.” The Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following statement in response to the announcement:

“The Department of Justice’s announcement that it is closing investigations into nearly all the cases of CIA torture and abuse that were under review confirms that the United States is committed to absolving itself of any responsibility for its crimes over the past decade. And while it comes as no surprise by now, it is yet another instance where the Obama administration has given precedence to politics over principle and its domestic and international legal obligations, even for torture.

The Justice Department’s decision to open criminal investigations into the deaths of only two detainees does not suffice to demonstrate the United States’ willingness to hold American torturers accountable. Criminal as these deaths were, selecting two high-profile cases that received major media attention, while closing the book on all other cases, does not amount to justice, but rather to a public show.

In fact, the United States has actively and successfully blocked all forms of redress in U.S. courts for hundreds of victims of the U.S. torture program. To date, no victim of post-9/11 policies has been allowed his day in court. This past Monday, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case of Abu Ghraib torture survivors brought against private military contractors for their role in torture, upon the recommendation of the U.S. Acting Solicitor General. Canadian rendition victim Maher Arar was similarly denied the chance to have his claims of torture reviewed on the merits in a U.S. court. The United States is also actively fighting a civil lawsuit filed by relatives of the men who died in Guantánamo in 2006, where new evidence suggests an official cover-up of the cause and circumstances of the deaths.

The investigation led by Mr. Durham was already unacceptably narrow in scope. The investigation was limited to reviewing the conduct of low-level CIA agents who acted within the scope of the “torture memos” and other Office of Legal Counsel memoranda of the Bush administration, and explicitly excluded the chief architects of the torture program and other senior officials. The motto of American Chief Prosecutor of the Nuremberg Trials, Justice Robert Jackson: “We do not accept the paradox that legal responsibility should be the least where power is the greatest” clearly no longer holds within the Obama Department of Justice.

CIA Director and future Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta declared, “we are now finally about to close this chapter of our agency’s history.” If this is the case, then we can equally affirm that this marks an end to the U.S.’s claim that no other country may exercise jurisdiction over crimes of torture perpetrated by Americans. Where justice is denied in the Unites States, universal jurisdiction and the Convention Against Torture allow prosecutions in other nations. CCR is currently actively engaged in a case opened last April in Madrid, Spain on behalf of several former Guantánamo plaintiffs, investigating the U.S.’s “authorized and systematic plan of torture.” Try as it might, the United States will have a harder time making its case outside of this country. Impunity does not always cross borders."

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Last modified 

July 1, 2011