In an effort to derive some direction and a way forward to accountability, on March 20, 2009, Colleen Costello of the World Organization for Human Rights USA, Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Jamil Dakwar of the American Civil Liberties Union, spoke before the Inter-American Commission Human Rights, in Washington D.C. The issue: “Accountability for Violations of Human Rights in the United States.”
Colleen Costello laid forth the details of our torture, including the waterboarding of Sheik Khalid Mohamed, our detention systems, renditions, and secret prisons.
Michael Ratner spoke with passion concerning the many obstacles confronting our efforts to achieve accountability, including some of the “legal” ones put in place by the Bush Administration, such as the Military Commissions Act, a lack of habeas corpus and how all efforts, thus far, have been thwarted by the Obama administration. That Sen. Leahy has called for a “truth commission” with immunity provisions, but would not lead necessarily to criminal prosecutions. He spoke with a sense of urgency and there truly is one, in terms of the U.S. statute of limitations on torture, we have a window of one and half years to prosecute. Moreover, Ratner pointed out that an Executive Order banning torture can easily be reversed by the next President and thus, accountability is the only conceivable way to assure that the U.S. is no longer a party to torture. One of the panel members of the IACHR reminded Ratner that there was no statute of limitations on the torture in international terms.
Jamil Dakwar spoke concerning the difficulty in obtaining documents because of the “state secrecy” stance, and that they (the UCLA) were able to obtain some documentation through the Freedom of Information Act.
Also speaking was Lewis Amselem, Deputy Permanent Representative of the United States to the Organization of American States (OAS). He spoke about the immediate steps of President Obama to end torture, close down Guantanamo, close CIA prisons by his Executive Orders. He went on and on about these accomplishments without really confronting the issue of accountability.
A Sarah Paoletti, Division of the Legal Clinic, University of Pennsylvania, also spoke briefly.
In the proceedings, and at the conclusion various members of the IACHR, i.e., Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, Commissioner of the CIDH, asked what the Commission could do. Santiago A. Canton, Executive Secretary of the CIDH, spoke and asked that documents be produced to the Commission, as well as any cases that have been brought for trial on torture.
Also, written complaints filed with the IACHR will be posted here.