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UN Rapporteur: Initiate criminal proceedings against Bush and Rumsfeld now

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By Scott Horton
January 22, 2009
Harper’s

In an interview on Tuesday evening with the German television program “Frontal 21,” on channel ZDF Professor Manfred Nowak, the United Nations Rapporteur responsible for torture, stated that with George W. Bush’s head of state immunity now terminated, the new government of Barack Obama was obligated by international law to commence a criminal investigation into Bush’s torture practices.

“The evidence is sitting on the table,” he stated. “There is no avoiding the fact that this was torture.” He pointed to the U.S. undertakings under the Convention Against Torture in which the country committed that it would criminally prosecute anyone who tortured, or extradite the person to a state that would prosecute him. “The government of the United States is required to take all necessary steps to bring George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld before a court,” Nowak said.

Manfred Nowak, an internationally renowned law professor at the University of Vienna, currently serves as an independent expert for the United Nations looking at allegations of torture affecting member states. In 2006, he undertook a special investigation of conditions at the U.S. detention facilities at Guantánamo in which he concluded that practices approved by the Bush Administration violated human rights norms, including the prohibition against torture.

The ZDF piece also includes an interview with attorney Wolfgang Kaleck, who brought charges against Rumsfeld before German prosecutors. He states that the Obama administration is “off to a good beginning” with its explicit renunciation of torture, but it still has not shown how it will hold Bush, Rumsfeld, and others to account for their crimes, nor has it demonstrated its legally obligated duty to provide compensation to torture victims.

Law professor Dietmar Herz clarifies that under U.S. and international law, George W. Bush bears personal responsibility for the introduction of torture. From the point of his departure from office, head of state immunity terminates, and under clear principles of international law, the United States is obligated to commence a criminal investigation and then a prosecution.

Source URL: http://harpers.org/archive/2009/01/hbc-90004250