And now the pressure builds

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are the preeminent human rights organizations in the world. As go HRW and Amnesty, so goes the rest of the human rights movement.

So, I was very happy to see that Amnesty has followed HRW in calling for some kind of accountability for perpetrators of human rights abuses during the Bush years.

Amnesty is calling for; criminal investigations into rendition and secret detention programs, a rejection of immunity for perpetrators of torture and other crimes, full disclosure of the names, fates, and whereabouts of disappeared persons, redress for victims, and,  most importantly because the rest depend on it,  the creation of an independent commission –a truth commission, but Amnesty doesn’t use that term.

HRW does, however:

Ensure the establishment of a nonpartisan investigatory commission (“truth commission”), equipped with subpoena powers and adequate funding to investigate and publicly report on post-9/11 counterterrorism-related abuses, recommend how those responsible should be held accountable, and specify steps to ensure that such abuses are never repeated.

I hope both organizations set aside time, staff, and money to see that this is a major priority. It’s necessary for so, so many reasons, and I can’t think of a more opportune time to impanel a truth commission than this coming spring, when the Obama Administration will be new and flush with political capital.

Questions of transitional justice in America

Today, in a post about elite responsibility (note: political responsibility is NOT the same as criminal guilt) for Bush Administration crimes, Glenn Greenwald wrote:

As the Bush administration comes to a close, one overarching question is this: how were the transgressions and abuses of the last eight years allowed to be unleashed with so little backlash and resistance? Just consider — with no hyperbole — what our Government, our country, has done. We systematically tortured people in our custody using techniques approved at the highest levels, many of whom died as a result. We created secret prisons — “black site” gulags — beyond the reach of international monitoring groups. We abducted and imprisoned even U.S. citizens and legal residents without any trial, holding them incommunicado and without even the right to access lawyers for years, while we tortured them to the point of insanity. We disappeared innocent people off the streets, sent them to countries where we knew they’d be tortured, and then closed off our courts to them once it was clear they had done nothing wrong. We adopted the very policies and techniques long considered to be the very definition of “war crimes”.

A while back, somewhere else, I wrote about the need for a truth commission (but not a truth and reconciliation commission) to address the human rights abuses –the very serious crimes— perpetrated during the years of the Bush Administration. I’ve altered the little piece it a bit and decided to post it here, because this is a subject that has been weighing on my mind in the last few days:

I agree with Nick Kristof that we need a Truth Commission of some kind.

Reconciliation is a non-issue. There are no parties to be reconciled, just the agents of a soon-to-be-out-of-power criminal regime and their numerous and varied victims. Moreover, the victims are of a dozen or more nationalities and spread out over six continents. Very few of the surviving victims and loved ones of deceased victims will ever have to share the same social or civic space –or the same space, period– with the perpetrators.

I think that the creation of an evidence-seeking Truth Commission that neither automatically precedes criminal trials nor offers any kind of immunity would be the best option for us in the years ahead.

This is my stance for a few reasons: Continue reading