The year 2006 will be remembered as one in which the American people and the world rose up to challenge the criminal actions and deceit of the Bush Administration.
Despite massive evidence that top Administration officials have been complicit in systematic violations of national and international law through aggressive war, illegal occupation, rendition and detention of terror suspects without trial, secret prisons and torture, so far they have not been held accountable. Now a diverse array of forces is contesting Bush Administration impunity for war crimes and trying to reassert the rule of law over the executive branch. Each is operating in different arenas and pursuing different kinds of accountability--from public shaming and political disempowerment to international isolation and even criminal prosecution. While all of these initiatives have been reported in the press, their convergence is one of the great underreported stories of 2006. For example:
ĽA court in Italy will decide in January whether to try twenty-six suspected American intelligence agents for abducting an Egyptian cleric off the streets of Milan.
• The US Supreme Court issued key decisions that declared
Administration actions in Guantánamo in violation of national and
• A US Army lieutenant refused to go to Iraq on the grounds that the
war is illegal under US and international law and made plans to use his
court-martial to "put the war on trial."
• An international team of lawyers brought a criminal complaint in a
German court alleging that former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and eleven other top US government officials are guilty of war crimes.
• Senator Patrick Leahy, incoming Senate Judiciary Committee chairman,
said he will issue subpoenas if necessary to secure Bush Administration
documents that may have authorized torture.
Here are some of the arenas in which accountability for Bush
Administration war crimes is being pursued:
The exposure of foreign governments' role in Bush Administration "war on
terror" abuses has led to condemnation and legal action both against US
intelligence operations and the governments that may have
participated in their clandestine activities.
The German Parliament is investigating the involvement of German
intelligence services in the rendition of German citizen Khaled el-Masri,
who, according to an ACLU suit in Virginia, was illegally abducted by
the CIA in Macedonia in 2003, flown to Afghanistan, abused at a CIA-run
secret facility and dumped in Albania five months later. Canada has
issued a formal protest to the United States after an official Canadian inquiry
established that a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar, was
seized by US authorities and deported to his native Syria, where he was
tortured; the case led to the resignation of the head of Canada's
national police, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Giuliano
Zaccardelli. In November, the European Parliament issued an
investigative report revealing that eleven European governments knew
about secret US jails and that there were 1,245 suspicious CIA flights
The rendition issue is beginning to have a political impact. Five days
before the general election in the Netherlands in November, the
campaign was rocked by news reports that members of the Dutch force in
Iraq had tortured dozens of Iraqi prisoners in a US interrogation facility;
the election brought large gains to the parties of the left that had
raised the issue.
Also in November, a complaint
initiated by German human rights lawyers in cooperation with the US
Center for Constitutional Rights under the doctrine of "universal
jurisdiction" asked the German federal prosecutor to indict Donald
Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales and other key Bush Administration figures
for war crimes. The complaint utilized the recent passage of the US
Military Commissions Act as evidence that the Bush Administration
intended to immunize itself from any possibility of prosecution, even
for the most heinous crimes.
Devastating testimony to an official British inquiry from
Carne Ross, Britain's key negotiator at the UN, recently released
after efforts by the Foreign Office to suppress it, reveal that the
government knew that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq
and that the invasion of Iraq was illegal. Prime Minister Tony Blair
has yielded to pressure to hold a parliamentary debate on Britain's role
in Iraq by the end of January.
Jeremy Brecher is a historian whose books include Strike!, Globalization from Below, and, co-edited with Brendan Smith and Jill Cutler, In the Name of Democracy: American War Crimes in Iraq and Beyond (Metropolitan/Holt). He has received five regional Emmy Awards for his documentary film work. He is a co-founder of WarCrimesWatch.org.
Brendan Smith is a legal analyst whose books include Globalization From Below and, with Brendan Smith and Jill Cutler, of In the Name of Democracy: American War Crimes in Iraq and Beyond (Metropolitan). He is current co-director of Global Labor Strategies and UCLA Law School's Globalization and Labor Standards Project, and has worked previously for Congressman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and a broad range of unions and grassroots groups. His commentary has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Nation, CBS News.com, YahooNews and the Baltimore Sun. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2006 The Nation