When I was Executive Director of High Road for Human Rights, I drafted a document entitled A Demand for the Equal and Principled Application of Laws Forbidding War Crimes and Other Heinous Abuses of Power.
A Brief Description of the Demand:
The illegality of kidnappings and torture under U.S. law. Kidnapping and torture are serious violations of federal criminal statutes, including the federal torture statute and the War Crimes Act of 1996. Warrantless surveillance of US citizens’ communications is a felony under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Prohibitions against torture in international treaties. Torture is also prohibited under international treaties to which the US is a party, including the Geneva Convention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention Against Torture.
The proud tradition of the United States. Since the Revolutionary War until the past decade, torture has always been strictly prohibited by the US, including in the military. George Washington prohibited his troops from mistreating British soldiers, the Lieber Code prohibited the intentional infliction of any suffering on captured soldiers during the Civil War, and the U.S. applied the Geneva Convention protections against torture during the Korean War, World War II, and the Vietnam War. Soldiers were prosecuted for waterboarding during the Spanish American War and the Vietnam War.
The culpability of U.S. officials for illegal torture. The prior administration authorized the use of several means of torture, which was inflicted upon dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people with impunity. Deaths, disabilities, and mental illnesses were caused by the torture. Further, the reputation of the U.S. is now that of a nation that resorts to torture as a matter of official policy.
Felonious spying on U.S. citizens. The prior administration represented to the American public that it was obtaining warrants, as required by the Constitution, before subjecting citizens’ communications to surveillance. It was a lie. The president had ordered the National Security Agency to engage in wholesale surveillance of U.S. citizen’s telephone and email communications without obtaining a warrant. Every instance of such surveillance was a felony under federal law.
Preventing the courts from providing a check on abuses of power by the executive branch. When illegal torture and surveillance has been challenged in the U.S. courts, the executive branch has avoided any accountability by having the courts dismiss the cases. The sole reason for the dismissals has been that the executive branch has claimed that to allow the cases to move forward would require the disclosure of “state secrets”. The balance of power upon which our system of government depends has been sorely undermined, leaving our republic badly damaged – permanently, if we do not restore the rule of law now and our system of checks and balances now.
What are we demanding?
We’re demanding that the law be applied fairly and equally.
We’re demanding accountability for illegal conduct.
And we’re demanding that measures be taken to deter such illegal conduct in the future.
Investigation and Disclosure of the Truth. A crucial part of our demand is that a select committee or independent commission be formed to thoroughly investigate and disclose illegal conduct by or at the behest of the executive branch. We, the people of the United States, have every right to know about abuses of power, particularly when committed in violation of criminal laws. A bright light was focused on governmental wrong-doing by the Church Committee during the 1970’s. That was an uplifting and democracy-enhancing moment in our nation’s history. To restore the rule of law and to protect our system of checks and balances, we demand a similar investigation and disclosure, followed by measures to deter illegal abuses in the future.
If the U.S. disregards the law, the international community should act now. If the U.S. fails in its duty to apply the rule of law in a principled fashion, and if accountability for illegal conduct is ignored, then we call upon the United Nations and other individual nations to hold perpetrators accountable, as they are committed to do under the Convention Against Torture. As President Reagan said upon the ratification of that Convention, “Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.”
That Demand was signed by several hundred people, some of them people of great distinction, including:
- Daniel Ellsberg, leaker of the Pentagon Papers, author, Secrets – A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers
- Ralph Nader, consumer advocate, author, citizen and legal activist
- Helen Fein, Executive Director of the Institute for the Study of Genocide
- Ira Nepus, jazz trombone star
- George Hunsinger, Princeton Theological Seminary
- Bill McKibben, author, founder 350.org, environmental activist and organizer
- Graham Nash, rock star (Hollies; Crosby Stills Nash & Young)
- James Abourezk, former U.S. Congressman
- Mimi Kennedy, television and screen actress (most recently “In the Loop” and “Midnight in Paris”), author, activist
- Edwin B. Firmage, author, To Chain the Dog of War
- Rocky Anderson, former Salt Lake City Mayor, founder High Road for Human Rights
- Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson (ret.), former Ambassador to Iraq, author The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity: A Diplomat’s Memoir, subject of movie “Fair Game”
- Valerie Plame Wilson, former CIA agent whose identity was betrayed by members of Bush administration, author Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House, subject of movie “Fair Game”
- Lester Brown, author Plan B 2.0, founder Worldwatch Institute, Earth Policy Institute
- Chuck Findley, jazz trumpet star
- Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, author
I mailed the Demand to President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, the United Nations, the U.N. Committee Against Torture, and members of Congress.
I just received a response of the letter to Attorney General Eric Holder from Teresa McHenry, Chief of the Human Rights & Special Prosecutions Section of the U.S. Department of Justice. Her letter was as dismissive of the Demand as President Obama and Attorney General Holder have been of the rule of law, our domestic laws, and U.S. treaty obligations. The following is the response, in its entirety:
Dear Mr. Anderson:
I have been asked to respond to your November 19, 2011 letter to the Attorney General enclosing the petition “A Demand for the Equal and Principled Application of Laws Forbidding War Crimes and Other Heinous Abuses of Power.”
We appreciate your attention to these important and difficult matters. I can assure you that the Attorney General and the Department of Justice take them very seriously.
Teresa McHenry, Chief
Human Rights & Special Prosecutions
Far too much is at risk for our republic to let this cavalier attitude toward the rule of law continue. If we are to be a nation of laws, rather than of tyrants – if we are to be a nation that lives up to the promise of “justice for all” — if we are to be a nation that lives up to its solemn treaty obligations and proudest traditions – we must take a stand, together, and let it be known that we demand far better from our nation’s leaders.
Where will YOU draw the line?
- Will it be when Congress (including then-Senator Obama) caves into a multi-million dollar lobbying blitz and provides retroactive immunity for numerous felonies committed by powerful telecommunication companies?
- Will it be when the President of the U.S. says that we should just forget about war crimes committed by U.S. officials and not hold anyone to account?
- Will it be when the President receives more in Wall Street campaign contributions than anyone else in history, then surrounds himself with Wall Street cronies and fails to hold accountable those who committed financial fraud leading to the economic melt-down that has harmed millions of Americans?
- Will it be when the President adds U.S. citizens to assassination lists?
- Will it be when the President signs into law a bill that allows the President to designate people, including U.S. citizens, to be kidnapped, incarcerated, and detained for up to their entire lives without charges, legal representation, the right of habeas corpus, or trial – completely at odds with the Due Process Clause and the most basic principles underlying our system of government?
- Will it be when the President ignores the plight of many millions of people whose families are in dire need of jobs, homes, and essential health care?
If you have drawn the line and find you can no longer support either of the corporatist, militarist parties or their candidates, make a positive choice. Please declare your commitment to real change and support me for President of the United States.
I have far more management and executive experience than many who have won the presidential election (including, of course, Barack Obama) and have been fighting for many years against U.S. empire-building and wars of aggression, the deterioration of the environment, abuses of human and civil rights, the failure of leadership on climate change, the corrupt influence of money in government, the stranglehold of the military-industrial complex on the federal government, and fiscal irresponsibility. (See website biography; Wikipedia.) Please join me in this exciting grassroots movement for radical change – change that will ensure that the federal government serves the public interest rather than the narrow interests of those who buy and pay for the White House and Congress.
Please share this message as widely as you can. Let the Republican and Democratic Parties know that the public will not be manipulated with hundreds of millions of dollars being poured into television advertising – and that the people of this nation are committed enough to real change that they will organize, mobilize, and take action to overthrow the dictatorship of corrupt money and political elitism once and for all.