51 Congressman Call for War Crimes Investigation

Congressman John Conyers has sent a letter (cosigned by 50 Congresspersons) to the Attorney General calling for a special prosecutor to investigate claims that the U.S. has violated the War Crimes Act at secret detention facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. Source: Raw Story

What chance is there that AG Gonzales, who bears some of the guilt, will approve this request? How small can you count?

Full text of letter below. (Although the Raw Story version seems to be missing some footnotes?) Kudos to all signers.

May 12, 2005

The Honorable Alberto R. Gonzales
Attorney General of the United States
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530

Dear Mr. Attorney General:

We are writing to request that you appoint a special counsel to investigate whether high-ranking officials within the Bush Administration violated the War Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. 2441, or the Anti-Torture Act, 18 U.S.C. 2340 by allowing the use of torture techniques banned by domestic and international law at recognized and secret detention sites in Iraq, Afghanistan Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.

One year and 10 investigations after we first learned about the atrocities committed at Abu Ghraib, there has yet to be a comprehensive, neutral and objective investigation with prosecutorial authority of who is ultimately responsible for the abuses there and elsewhere. While more than 130 low-ranking officers and enlisted soldiers have been disciplined or face courts-martial for the abuses that occurred, there have been no criminal charges against high-ranking officials. Yet the pattern of abuse across several countries did not result from the acts of individual soldiers who broke the rules. It resulted from decisions made by senior U.S. officials to bend, ignore, or cast rules aside. If the United States is to wipe away the stain of Abu Ghraib, it needs to investigate those at the top who ordered or condoned torture. As a result, it is in our interest to finally show the world that we are taking these matters seriously and resolving them free of political taint.

Some of us previously asked Attorney General Ashcroft to appoint a special counsel to investigate these abuses on May 20, 2004. Unfortunately, we received no answer to our request. The need for a special counsel is now more important than ever as the Administration and military have repeatedly exonerated high-ranking officials, or declined to even investigate their actions, even as other official investigations linked the policy decisions by these officials to the crimes that occurred at Abu Ghraib. The Administration's haphazard and disjointed approach to these investigations appears to have insulated those in command and prevented a full account of the actions and abuses from being determined.

As you know, under Department of Justice regulations, the Attorney General must appoint a special counsel when (1) a “criminal investigation of a person or matter is warranted,” (2) the investigation “by a United States Attorney Office or litigating Division of the Department of Justice would present a conflict of interest for the Department,” and (3) “it would be in the public interest to appoint an outside Special Counsel to assume responsibility for the matter.”1 In the present case, all three requirements have been met.

First, federal criminal laws are clearly implicated. The Anti-Torture Act criminalizes acts of torture – including attempts to commit torture and conspiracy to commit an act of torture – occurring outside the United States' territorial jurisdiction regardless of the citizenship of the perpetrator or victim.2 The Geneva Conventions generally prohibit “violence to life and persons,” “outrages upon personal dignity,” and “humiliating and degrading treatment.”3 Violations of the Geneva Conventions also constitute a violation of U.S. federal criminal law under the War Crimes Act.4 The Administration has acknowledged on several occasions that the United States is bound by the Geneva Conventions with respect to Iraqi5 and Taliban prisoners,6 and that a violation of the Conventions would invite prosecution under the War Crimes Act.7 Numerous investigations have uncovered such violations. The Taguba report found instances of “sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses” of prisoners.8 The Army's Inspector General's report found 94 incidents of detainee abuse at detention sites in Afghanistan and Iraq.9 And, the Schlesinger report confirmed five instances in which detainees died as a result of abuse by U.S. personnel during interrogations.10 The repudiation of the August 2002 memorandum you wrote as White House Counsel in December of 2004 suggests even the Administration realizes its policies contributed to actions which violated federal criminal law.11

Therefore, given the Administration's concession that the Geneva Conventions apply to Iraqi and Taliban prisoners, given its concession in the Gonzalez memo that a violation of the Conventions would also constitute a violation of federal criminal law, and given the flagrant violations of the Conventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay which have been confirmed by official investigations, it is clear that a prima facie violation of federal criminal law exists. It is also evident that high-ranking Administration officials, including the Defense Secretary, as well as high-ranking military officials, may have authorized these actions and are potentially subject to criminal prosecution as well.

Second, there is an obvious conflict of interest. A special counsel is necessary not only because high-ranking Administration officials, including Cabinet members, are implicated, but also because you personally, and the Department of Justice generally, may have participated in this conspiracy to violate the War Crimes Act. It has been confirmed that the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel, and you yourself as White House Counsel, encouraged the president to withhold Geneva Convention protections from Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay detainees. If the conflict of interest provisions in your regulations mean anything, it is that when the Attorney General may have contributed to the abuses that were committed, the Department of Justice has no business conducting the investigation and should instead turn to a special counsel.

Finally, there can be no doubt that the public interest will be served by a broad and independent investigation into both the allegations of abuse at U.S. detention sites as well as the role of high-ranking officials in authorizing and allowing these abuses. To date, a number of investigations into allegations of abuse at United States detention sites have been conducted, including ten official investigations. These investigations concluded that the leadership failure of officers such as Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, formerly the senior commander in Iraq, contributed to the prisoner abuse.

For example, the Army Inspector General and former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger found in separate reports that the policies issued by Lt. Gen. Sanchez and his subsequent actions once the abuses at Abu Ghraib were known contributed to the perpetration of these abuses. The Schlesinger investigation also found that other top military officials were responsible, concluding, “There is both institutional and personal responsibility at higher levels.”12 Similarly, the Kern-Fay-Jones report concluded that the actions of Sanchez and his most senior deputies, such as Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski, “did indirectly contribute” to some abuses.13 However, these inquiries were not empowered to impose punishments on those it found culpable, and they were not empowered to examine the role of high-ranking officials, including members of the Administration, in the perpetuation of these abuses.14 And, in spite of these findings, many of the reports refused to hold these high-ranking officials culpable. In fact, we recently learned the Army absolved four top officers, including Lt. Gen. Sanchez, of wrongdoing. To date, only one high-ranking military officer has been punished as a result of these inquiries, and many view her punishment as a mere slap on the wrist. As a result, it is not yet clear to the world that the United States is taking these abuses seriously.

The public interest demands we determine who is ultimately responsible for these abuses. While Private Lynndie England and other low-ranking officers have pled guilty, those who ordered and authorized their actions appear to have been protected by the military and this Administration. Because so many high level officials, including you, have been implicated in these events, the only way to ensure impartiality is through the appointment of a Special Counsel. Indeed, our nation's integrity is at stake. We must reassure the world that we will fairly and independently pursue legal violations wherever they occur.

We await your response on this important matter. At no point during this Administration has a Special Counsel been appointed.15 Please contact us through Perry Apelbaum or Ted Kalo of the Judiciary Staff at 2142 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515 if you have any questions about this request.

Sincerely,

1. Rep. Tammy Baldwin
2. Rep. Sanford Bishop
3. Rep. Earl Blumenauer
4. Rep. Corrine Brown
5. Rep. Julia Carson
6. Rep. John Conyers
7. Rep. Elijah Cummings
8. Rep. A. Davis
9. Rep. S. Davis
10. Rep. Diana DeGette
11. Rep. Anna Eshoo
12. Rep. Barney Frank
13. Rep. Raul Grijalva
14. Rep. Luis Guitierrez
15. Rep. Maurice Hinchey
16. Rep. Michael Honda
17. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee
18. Rep. Ron Kind
19. Rep. Dennis Kucinich
20. Rep. Barbara Lee
21. Rep. Zoe Lofgren
22. Rep. Carolyn Maloney
23. Rep. Betty McCollum
24. Rep. Jim McDermott
25. Rep. James McGovern
26. Rep. Gregory Meeks
27. Rep. James Moran
28. Rep. Jerrold Nadler
29. Rep. James Oberstar
30. Rep. John Olver
31. Rep. Frank Pallone
32. Rep. Donald Payne
33. Rep. Tom Price
34. Rep. Martin Sabo
35. Rep. Linda Sanchez
36. Rep. Bernard Sanders
37. Rep. Janice Schakowsky
38. Rep. Bobby Scott
39. Rep. Jose Serrano
40. Rep. Louise Slaughter
41. Rep. Hilda Solis
42. Rep. Fortney Stark
43. Rep. Ellen Tauscher
44. Rep. Mark Udall
45. Rep. Chris VanHollen
46. Rep. Maxine Waters
47. Rep. Diane Watson
48. Rep. Melvin Watt
49. Rep. Robert Wexler
50. Rep. Lynn Woolsey
51. Rep. David Wu

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2 Responses to 51 Congressman Call for War Crimes Investigation

  1. Not Michael says:

    Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth, James Schlesinger has responded to this hateful slime:

    From the WSJ, April 27, 2005.
    Abu Ghraib Accountability
    An overhyped story, not a whitewash.

    We’d have thought every American would be relieved to learn that 10 major inquiries, sworn statements from 37 high-level officials, and information gleaned from dozens of courts-martial and criminal investigations have cleared most senior civilian and military leaders of wrongdoing in the Abu Ghraib scandal and other Iraq prisoner abuses. Instead, the latest Army report reaching this conclusion has induced further cries of whitewash.

    This wailing says more about the accusers than about any facts that have emerged in the year since the scandal broke. The media and Congressional Democrats flogged the Abu Ghraib story for months throughout the 2004 election year, with a goal of stripping the Iraq War of moral authority and turning President Bush into another LBJ. But now that their worst chain-of-command conspiracy hypotheses haven’t panned out, they refuse to admit it.

    Senator Ted Kennedy all but blew a gasket yesterday, essentially accusing both the U.S. military and Bush Administration of moral perfidy. “Our nation will continue to be harmed by the reports of abuse of detainees in U.S. custody, the failure by top officials to take action, and the abandonment of our basic rules and traditions on human rights,” he said. He even stooped to the moral-equivalence canard that some in the U.S. chose “to stoop to the level of the terrorists” and “deserve to be held fully accountable.”

    Unpacking so many falsehoods takes more space than we have. But let’s review the speed and seriousness with which Abu Ghraib was handled, which does the U.S. military credit by any standard: The abuse reports went up the chain of command on January 13 last year; within a day an Army criminal probe had started. Two days after that, Central Command issued a press release notifying the world of that investigation; on March 20 it was announced in Baghdad that criminal charges had been brought against six of the soldiers involved. A month earlier, meanwhile, Major General Antonio Taguba had completed an internal investigation of what had happened. This is all before the infamous photos were leaked to the press one year ago this week.
    Recall as well what Specialist Jeremy C. Sivits, the first of the Abu Ghraib offenders to face a court-martial, said in his sworn statement of the photographed abuses: “Our command would have slammed us. They believe in doing the right thing. If they saw what was going on, there would be hell to pay.” No one has since proven otherwise. Convicted abuse ringleader Charles Graner tried the “just-following-orders” defense. But this January a jury of his peers in an Army court-martial rejected it, handing him a 10-year sentence.

    The independent inquiry headed by former Defense Secretary Jim Schlesinger–whose Cabinet career included a stint in the Carter Administration–likewise concluded last summer that the Abu Ghraib abuses weren’t related to interrogations at all. That should have put the nail in the coffin of the theory that high-level Bush Administration discussions about techniques for handling al Qaeda detainees somehow resulted in the abuses in Iraq.

    Yes, there were abuses in Iraq beyond what was pictured at Abu Ghraib, but abuses happen in war and in civilian prisons too. No evidence has been produced to support allegations that the abuses were “systematic” or that they were inspired or condoned by superiors up the chain of command. As Mr. Schlesinger also noted, by any statistical measure–such as the rate of reported abuse incidents per detainee–treatment of detainees in the overall war on terror has been exemplary. In short, the so-called “torture narrative” that was so hyped by the media last year was entirely false.

    Sometimes we wonder if proponents of this torture-cum-whitewash accusation have ever stopped to consider the improbable nature of the coverup they are now suggesting. Mr. Schlesinger and other investigators would all have to be lying. And where are the whistleblowers? There would have been a widespread outcry in the military if senior brass and civilians really were trying to shift blame for abuse onto the lower ranks.
    Yet the only military people claiming that they are taking some kind of fall are the convicted Graner and the former Abu Ghraib Commander, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who was blamed for weak leadership in the original Taguba report–which, by the way, remains a thorough and insightful account of what went wrong at Abu Ghraib.

    The salient and remarkable truth here is that America has punished its own for the Abu Ghraib abuses; and it has done so even before Saddam and his henchmen have faced justice for the horrors they propagated in that same prison. More than a few good soldiers have had their careers tarnished by the media and Democratic innuendo that they somehow condoned human rights abuses. They deserve an apology. After all the evidence to the contrary, continuing to allege systematic prisoner abuse–and a coverup–by the U.S. military is itself shameful.

  2. Furry little puppy says:

    Not Michael proves the old strategy correct: when the facts are against you, pound the law.

    Not military law, of course, as that would have implicated superiors.

    More than a few good soldiers have had their careers tarnished by the media and Democratic innuendo that they somehow condoned human rights abuses.More than a few good soldiers have had their careers tarnished by the media and Democratic innuendo that they somehow condoned human rights abuses.

    Maybe Not Michael needs to look at the pictures again, think about the legal wrangling over the definition of torture, consider the continuing practice of “extraordinary rendition” becoming more ordinary every day, and then wonder about the “democratic innuendo” again.

    But, hey, what about a ticking bomb?

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