Magazine article Newsweek International

Bush-Era War Crimes? the Legal Noose Tightens

Magazine article Newsweek International

Bush-Era War Crimes? the Legal Noose Tightens

Article excerpt

Byline: Jonathan Tepperman

The United States, like many countries, has a habit of committing war-time excesses and a bad record of accounting for them afterward. But that may finally be changing--and top Bush administration officials could soon face legal jeopardy for prisoner abuse in the war on terror.

Last month a federal court in New York agreed to rehear a suit against former attorney general John Ashcroft by a Canadian deported in 2002 from the United States to Syria, where he was tortured. A week later, the Supreme Court revived a lawsuit against former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld by Guantanamo detainees alleging abuse there. And on Dec. 11, the Senate Armed Services Committee released a blistering report blaming administration figures for prisoner mistreatment. The bipartisan report reads like a brief for the prosecution--it calls Rumsfeld's behavior a "direct cause" of abuse--and analysts say it could give cover to prosecutors and supply them with ammunition. The administration maintains there was nothing improper about U.S. interrogation techniques--"We don't do torture," Vice President Dick Cheney repeated on Dec. 15--and have blamed the worst abuses on a few bad apples.

High-level charges, if they come, would be a first in U.S. history; as Burt Neuborne, a constitutional expert at New York University, puts it, "Traditionally we've caught some poor bastard down low and not gone up the chain." But he and others expect Bush to forestall prosecutions by issuing a blanket pardon in his final days. …

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