BERLIN - Now that former U.S. president George W. Bush is an ordinary citizen again, many legal and human rights activists in Europe are demanding that he and high-ranking members of his government be brought before justice for crimes against humanity committed in the so-called war on terror.
"Judicial clarification of the crimes against international law the former U.S. government committed is one of the most delicate issues that the new U.S. president Barack Obama will have to deal with," Wolfgang Kaleck, general secretary of the European Centre for Human and Constitutional Rights told IPS.
U.S. justice will have to "deal with the turpitudes committed by the Bush government," says Kaleck, who has already tried unsuccessfully to sue the former U.S. authorities in European courts. "And, furthermore, the U.S. government will have to pay compensation to the innocent people who were victims of these crimes."
Kaleck and other legal experts consider Bush and his highest-ranking officials responsible for crimes against humanity, such as torture.
Many agree that the evidence against the U.S. government is overwhelming. U.S. officials have admitted some crimes such as waterboarding, where a victim is tied up and water is poured into the air passages. Also, human rights activists have gathered testimonies by innocent victims of torture, especially some prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
In an interview with the German public television network ZDF, Austrian human rights lawyer Manfred Nowak, UN special rapporteur on torture, said that numerous cases of torture ordered by U.S. officials and perpetrated by U.S. authorities are well documented.
"We possess all the evidence which proves that the torture methods used in interrogation by the U.S. government were explicitly ordered by former U.S. defence minister Donald Rumsfeld," Nowak told ZDF. "Obviously, these orders were given with the highest U.S. authorities' knowledge."
"George W. Bush is without doubt responsible for crimes such as torture," says Dietmar Herz, professor of political science at the university of Erfurt, 235 km southwest of Berlin.
"According to the U.S. constitution, the U.S. president is responsible for all actions carried out by the executive," Herz told IPS. "Therefore, George W. Bush is responsible for the torture methods used by U.S. authorities, such as waterboarding."
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International justice against crimes against humanity began in 1945, with the Nuremberg trials against Nazi criminals, says Kaleck. Leading prosecutor Robert Jackson said at the opening of the trials in October 1945 that "we are able to do away with...tyranny and violence and aggression by those in power against the rights of (the) people...only when we make all men answerable to the law."
But since then this promise has been fulfilled only in exceptional cases, Kaleck said.
"Crimes against humanity have been repeatedly committed ever since, but very few people have been brought before international courts for these crimes," he said, adding that this impunity is particularly obvious for leaders of the Allied countries (such as the U.S., France and Britain), who had organised the Nuremberg trials.
Nobody was ever judged for crimes against humanity committed in Algeria by France, in Vietnam and Latin America by the U.S., in Afghanistan by the Soviet Union and in Chechnya by Russia.
Only in the 1990s, after the Yugoslav wars of secession, the Rwanda genocide, and civil wars in countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone were state criminals captured, judged and convicted.
"The creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002 in The Hague in the Netherlands marks a turning point in the prosecution of state officials accused of crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity or of war," Kaleck added.
But prosecution for crimes of war or for crimes against humanity continues to be highly selective. So far, only perpetrators from weak or failed states from south-eastern Europe, or from the south, especially Africa, have been brought to court. In a case such as that of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, Britain acted as an accomplice to protect him.
Over the last couple of years, human rights activists and some national courts in Europe have been fighting these arbitrary ways. They are appealing for, and in some cases even applying, a universal jurisdiction of national courts.
The Spanish judiciary has opened cases against Latin American dictators such as Guatemalan general Efraín Ríos Montt, who ruled the Central American country between 1982 and 1983, and Argentinean military officers involved in kidnapping and killing civilians.