And Yet They Walk In Freedom
A number of commentators have advanced the argument that the principle of “command responsibility” could make high-ranking officials within the Bush administration guilty of war crimes committed either with their knowledge or by persons under their control.
As a reaction to the September 11, 2001 attacks the U.S. government adopted several controversial measures (e.g., invading Iraq, asserting “unlawful combatant” status, and “enhanced interrogation methods“).
Alberto Gonzales and others argued that detainees should be considered “unlawful combatants” and as such not be protected by the Geneva Conventions in multiple memoranda regarding these perceived legal gray areas.
Gonzales’ statement that denying coverage under the Geneva Conventions “substantially reduces the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act” suggests, at the least, an awareness by those involved in crafting policies in this area that US officials are involved in acts that could be seen to be war crimes. The U.S. Supreme Court overruled the premise on which this argument is based in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, in which it ruled that Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions applies to detainees in Guantanamo Bay, and that the Guantanamo military commission used to try these suspects were in violation of US and international law because it was not created by Congress.
On April 14, 2006, Human Rights Watch said that Secretary Donald Rumsfeld could be criminally liable for his alleged involvement in the abuse of Mohammad al-Qahtani.Dave Lindorff contends that by ignoring the Geneva Conventions the US administration, including President Bush, as Commander-in-Chief, is culpable for war crimes. In addition, former chief prosecutor of the Nuremberg TrialsBenjamin Ferencz has called the invasion of Iraq a “clear breach of law”, and as such it constitutes a crime against peace. On November 14, 2006, invoking universal jurisdiction, legal proceedings were started in Germany – for their alleged involvement of prisoner abuse – against Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, George Tenet and others. This allegedly prompted recently retired Donald Rumsfeld to cancel a planned visit to Germany.
Former Army Lt. Ehren Watada refused to be deployed to Iraq based on his claims of command responsibility. Although his own deployment was not ordered until after Security Council Resolution 1511 authorized a multinational force in Iraq, Watada argued that the invasion of Iraq was illegal, and as such he claimed he was bound by command responsibility to refuse to take part in an illegal war. He was discharged from the Army in 2009.
The Military Commissions Act of 2006 is seen as an amnesty law for crimes committed in the War on Terror by retroactively rewriting the War Crimes Act and by abolishing habeas corpus, effectively making it impossible for detainees to challenge crimes committed against them.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo told The Sunday Telegraph that he is willing to start an inquiry by the International Criminal Court (ICC), and possibly a trial, for war crimes committed in Iraq involving British Prime MinisterTony Blair and American President George W. Bush. Though under the Rome Statute, the ICC has no jurisdiction over Bush, since the United States is not a State Party to the relevant treaty—unless Bush were accused of crimes inside a State Party, or the UN Security Council (where the United States has a veto) requested an investigation. However Blair does fall under ICC jurisdiction as Britain is a State Party.
Nat Hentoff wrote on August 28, 2007, that a leaked report by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the July 2007 report by Human Rights First and Physicians for Social Responsibility, titled Leave No Marks: Enhanced Interrogation Techniques and the Risk of Criminality, might be used as evidence of American war crimes if there was a Nuremberg-like trial regarding the War on Terror.
Shortly before the end of President Bush’s second term, newsmedia in other countries started opining that under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, the United States is obligated to hold those responsible for prisoner abuse to account under criminal law. One proponent of this view was the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Professor Manfred Nowak) who, on January 20, 2009, remarked on German television that former president George W. Bush had lost his head of state immunity and under international law the United States would now be mandated to start criminal proceedings against all those involved in these violations of the UN Convention Against Torture. Law professor Dietmar Herz explained Nowak’s comments by saying that under U.S. and international law former President Bush is criminally responsible for adopting torture as interrogation tool.