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General Taguba: Accountability for Torture Does Not Stop at White House Door

Saturday, 18 April 2009 11:37 By Andrew Kalloch, Harvard Law Record | name.

General Taguba: Accountability for Torture Does Not Stop at White House Door
Major General Antonio Taguba, pictured here, is calling for an independent commission to investigate war crimes committed by members of the Bush administration. (Photo: Mary Ellen Mark)

    Major General Antonio Taguba called for an independent commission to investigate war crimes committed by senior members of the Bush Administration in remarks in Ames Courtroom on Tuesday, April 14. The event was sponsored by Physicians for Human Rights and the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School.

    Taguba, who was pressured to resign by the Bush Administration in 2007 following the 2004 leak of his report detailing abuses by U.S. armed forces in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, declared in the preface of the 2008 Physicians for Human Rights publication "Broken Laws, Broken Lives," that, "there is no longer any doubt as to whether the [Bush] administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account."

    While the Obama Administration has "reaffirmed its commitment to valuing human rights and international law" by officially closing CIA black sites and the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Taguba insisted that "there are a lot of stories that have yet to be told."

    In an effort to make those stories known, Taguba has been travelling the country seeking to foster dialogue between human rights advocates and the nation's armed forces. According to Taguba, the two groups "share a common denominator based on ethical considerations of democratic principles." Human rights advocates seek to ensure the preservation of democratic ideals and U.S. armed forces are trained to "provide services in a manner that exemplifies America's ideals" and to protect America's value system and its' way of life, not simply to secure its borders at all costs.

    Taguba explained that the Army's core values-honor, integrity, courage, and selfless service-are but one part of a broader set of moral foundations upon which the Army operates. For example, Taguba declared that the Army is required to adhere to international laws, including all four Geneva conventions, as well as the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and to demonstrate "responsibility, accountability, and discipline."

    Even when soldiers are not in combat, and are instead serving the American public and the many peoples of the world abroad via merchant shipping protection and humanitarian aid, they are obliged, Taguba stated, to abide by this strict moral code, since their very presence has a profound effect on the American image. Despite the horrors of combat, Taguba stated unequivocally that troops "are not immune or exempt from criminal acts, bad behavior, or tragedy in their operations."

    Just as troops are not immune from prosecution-indeed, they must be held accountable for their actions-so must senior civilian officials be held accountable for policies that systematized and legitimized torture and other abuses of power by U.S. troops in the War on Terror, Taguba stated. If the "torture memos" penned by John Yoo, Alberto Gonzales, and David Addington, among others, were catalysts for the soldiers to engage in criminal acts, as Taguba surmised, these officials need to be held accountable.

    "Abu Ghraib emerged from a structure developed by senior officials in the Bush White House and by those who thought it was necessary to blindly advance the Bush administration's goals," the General declared. "Abu Ghraib was not just happenstance. It was a morbid consequence of a policy that emanated from the Office of Legal Counsel and the Justice Department."

    According to Taguba, these failures not only constitute war crimes, but also have emboldened America's enemies abroad, leading to greater numbers of American deaths in Iraq.

    However, far from being held accountable, senior administration officials have quietly ridden off into the sunset. Indeed, after seventeen high level investigations, army soldiers were signaled out for punishment despite presence of evidence regarding upper level officials' awareness and support. "Over 200 soldiers and officers were punished , unfortunately no civilian officials or contractors have been punished for their involvement," Taguba stated.

    Taguba singled out John Yoo, who, as a member of the Office of Legal Counsel, co-authored legal memoranda that produced, in Taguba's words, "despicable torture and abuse." Yoo has not expressed remorse for the memos," Taguba insisted. Rather, Yoo has only stated that he would have spent more time had he known the memos would become public.

    Responding to those who oppose investigation and prosecution of senior officials in the Bush Administration whose "actions were supposedly made in good conscience in effort to secure national security," Taguba answered, "What about those soldiers punished, court-martialed, and reduced in rank?"

    Ultimately, Taguba concluded, investigation of the Bush Administration is needed if "accountability is not to be just a hollow term." "In my opinion accountability is a condition of employment. Government leaders who chose to accept high level positions of influence ought to hold firm and be accountable."

Last modified on Saturday, 18 April 2009 12:40