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Interrogation, Torture, and Accountability

Judge Jay Bybee, former Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel

Judge Jay Bybee, former Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel

In the wake of the recent release of additional Deparment of Justice memoranda on interrogation and the news about more potential violations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by the Bush Administration, many commentators are renewing a call for accountability. In an editorial today, the New York Times targets the high-level Bush officials who crafted the legal arguments that led to abuses. The Times writes that President Obama

has an obligation to pursue what is clear evidence of a government policy sanctioning the torture and abuse of prisoners — in violation of international law and the Constitution.

That investigation should start with the lawyers who wrote these sickening memos, including John Yoo, who now teaches law in California; Steven Bradbury, who was job-hunting when we last heard; and Mr. Bybee, who holds the lifetime seat on the federal appeals court that Mr. Bush rewarded him with.

These memos make it clear that Mr. Bybee is unfit for a job that requires legal judgment and a respect for the Constitution. Congress should impeach him. And if the administration will not conduct a thorough investigation of these issues, then Congress has a constitutional duty to hold the executive branch accountable. If that means putting Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzales on the stand, even Dick Cheney, we are sure Americans can handle it.

After eight years without transparency or accountability, Mr. Obama promised the American people both. His decision to release these memos was another sign of his commitment to transparency. We are waiting to see an equal commitment to accountability.

Very strong words. But it is clear that formal action is needed. A non-partisan commission to investigate all potential violations of international and domestic law following September 11, 2001 would be a good beginning. Such commission could be established by the President or Congress or both acting together. But something  needs to happen soon. In the meantime, since Jay Bybee continues to hold a position where he makes decisions about the law, his impeachment would make sense.

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One Comment

  • Omar Noureldin says:

    How can the United States talk to other countries about Human Right’s violations when we won’t even create a special commission to investigate possible violations to Human Rights sanctioned by our Department of Justice? I just can’t believe all this is being revealed and no action is being taken.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.