Earlier today in Geneva, in advance of the UN Committee Against Torture’s formal review of the United States, Morgan Davis, JD ’15, spoke to the U.S. delegation, pointing to its lack of engagement with the issue of senior-level accountability for post-9/11 torture. She spoke on behalf of Advocates for U.S. Torture Prosecutions, a civil society group that includes the International Human Rights Clinic, drawing from the group’s prepared comments, reprinted below.
“To truly move forward, we have to start by being honest,” she said. “The decision to shield senior-level government officials is not about law or justice; it’s about politics.”
The Committee will have the chance to raise this question with the U.S. government at tomorrow’s formal review.
Full text of the group’s prepared comments below:
My name is Morgan Davis, and I am a student at Harvard Law School. I will be speaking on behalf of the group “Advocates for US Torture Prosecutions,” a group of legal and health professionals and scholars in the United States. We are supported by 291 organizations and individuals who have joined our call for accountability for senior-level civilian and military officials for their central role in the post-9/11 torture program.
For years, these officials—including George Bush, Dick Cheney, George Tenet, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft, and former State Department Legal Adviser John Bellinger—have lived with impunity for their role in authorizing and enabling acts that President Obama has publicly called torture.
The Convention Against Torture requires states to investigate and prosecute crimes of torture, including up the chain of command. This is not a hollow aspirational principle; accountability for unconscionable crimes is a basic tenet of justice and rule of law.
Just this summer, President Obama told a gathering of young international leaders, “a country without the rule of law will not succeed.”
It doesn’t serve the rule of law to court martial lower-level service members while those that authorized and justified brutal tactics including near-drowning, sleep deprivation, and forced nudity have enjoyed impunity.
Nor does it serve the rule of law to shield senior officials on the basis that they “acted within the scope” of a legal standard justifying conduct that the US government has unequivocally called torture.
President Obama and Attorney General Holder justified this shielding by saying that “we must look forward, not backward.” No competent defense attorney would make such an argument in court. To truly move forward, we have to start by being honest. The decision to shield senior-level government officials is not about law or justice; it’s about politics.
By placing some powerful individuals above the law in the service of political expediency, we make a mockery of our national values and set a dangerous precedent for future generations in countries around the world.
At the last civil society consultation in D.C., the government representatives in the room ignored our demand for answers and gave us canned talking points that dodged any real acknowledgement of this problem that has left thousands of human beings without redress and tainted the reputation of the United States throughout the world.
We can only hope that this week, when confronted by the Committee Against Torture, you will have the courage to give real answers, accept real responsibility, and take some real steps towards accountability, thereby upholding the universal protection against torture that all human beings deserve.