Military Commissions Act backfires on accused US officials

If a German court agrees to file war crimes charges against Donald Rumsfeld, he can blame the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Germany’s universal war crimes law grants the country jurisdiction over war crimes committed anywhere in the world, but the court rejected a 2004 attempt by Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo inmates to have Rumsfeld charged because it found that the crimes in question were covered by US law.

But aside from authorizing Rumsfeld and the president to do whatever they want to whomever they want, wherever and whenever and for as long as they want, the Military Commissions Act stripped “unlawful combatants” of access to US courts while amending the War Crimes Act of 1996 and granting retroactive immunity to any US official who violated the original version. The plaintiffs now have no recourse under US law; unless the German court finds that they have no evidence US officials were responsible for the alleged crimes — which will be difficult since US officials have acknowledged responsibility in at least once instance — it may face a choice between filing the charges or branding the German war crimes law as hollow.

The suit also names attorney general Alberto Gonzales, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington and others. For more information on those named and an HTML version of the background paper from the Center for Constitutional Rights (Acrobat file here), see the brief biographies and links below (click on the (more) link if you’re on our front page). The suit may name other defendants; we’ve requested that information and if there are additional ones, we’ll add them when the names become available.

Following is a list of defendants named in the summary. Click on the “news links” for a chronological index of related news items about the defendants. Some of them lead to stories that are now behind paid archive walls, but you can usually dig up free versions with a little effort.

  • Former CIA Director George Tenet would be responsible for bad acts committed by CIA personnel, presumably including kidnapping — “extraordinary rendition” — and torture — “torture.” (news links)
  • Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Dr. Stephen Cambone, who for now remains in that position following Rumsfeld’s resignation — and will probably be eager to stay there if the suit is successful — has control of military intelligence gathering and operations, some conducted by civilians borrowed from the CIA or hired as contractors, and is alleged to have authorized, with Rumsfeld’s approval, interrogations using methods banned by the Geneva Conventions. (news links plus Sy Hersh)
  • Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez was the top man in Iraq when the abuses at Abu Ghraib occurred, has been faulted for not taking action when rumors of the abuse began bubbling up and will likely be accused of at least tacitly approving the methods used there. (news links)
  • Major General Walter Wojdakowski authorized the use of dogs in interrogations and ignored Red Cross requests for information about alleged prisoner abuse in 2003. (news links)
  • Major General Geoffrey Miller commanded the interment camp at Guantanamo Bay when abuse complaints were emerging from that facility and was then transferred to head prison programs in Iraq, including Abu Ghraib. (news links)
  • Colonel Thomas Pappas was the commander at Abu Ghraib and has been accused of either knowing about the abuses and doing nothing or actively encouraging them. (news links)
  • Former Chief White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, now US attorney general, is here because of the famed “torture memo,” in which he requested and got an opinion from the justice department that the US wasn’t bound by the Geneva Conventions and other international laws and treaties in its treatment of War on Terra® prisoners, thereby creating the underpinning for US disregard of basic human rights in dealing with prisoners in Iraq and elsewhere. (news links)
  • Former Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, now a federal judge, signed but says he didn’t read the torture memo. (news links)
  • Former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, now shaping the next generation of legal minds as a law professor at Berkeley, wrote the torture memo and is proud of it, and of his legal opinion that the president is above the law. (news links, plus BTC News White House correspondent Eric Brewer asks press secretary Tony Snow about Yoo)
  • General Counsel of the Department of Defense William James Haynes, II, now a stalled federal court nominee, argued that using dogs as an interrogation technique at Guantanamo was legal; the practice was then exported to Iraq by Guantanamo commander Geoffrey Miller, above. (news links)
  • Vice President Chief Counsel David S. Addington, now Cheney’s chief of staff, is an ardent proponent of the views expressed in the torture memo and an equally ardent proponent of the view that the president has dictatorial powers in the realm of national security. (news links)

For the PDF-challenged, here’s the HTML version of the summary.


8 thoughts on “Military Commissions Act backfires on accused US officials”

  1. John Yoo on the list made me smile. This slime has done more damage to his adopted countries constitution then any other. He was the unaccountable backroom legal technician that constructed this assault on the United States. John Yoo is an Enemy of the State imho. I hope this suit incurs great financial cost and ends up making Mr. Yoo a “prisoner” of the Country He tried to destroy, never to leave it’s borders for fear of arrest elsewhere in the world.

  2. PC, I doubt it. I’ll be surprised if the case goes forward, since I’m sure the administration will bring every possible bit of pressure to bear against it. Even if the court takes up the case, my guess is the US-Germany extradition treaty has an escape clause for government officials which both governments would be eager to exploit. But at the least, the case would make travel outside the US problematic. As Atu says, the defendants could end up prisoners in the US. Not that that’s a huge punishment relative to Gitmo or Abu Ghraib, but it would be humiliating.

    Anyway, we’ll see. At least it’s on the table.

  3. I would like to thank Western Europe, especially Germany, France, and Spain for their non-support in the war on terror.

    I, and all Islamic militants around the world, know the world would be a much safer place if the U.S. would mind its own business. How dare they get angry for being raped and murdered in their front yard?… How dare they resort to tactics that lead to the capture of others who want to harm them (even though it’s nothing compared to the things that I and my sons did to innocent people, like blindfolding them and marching them off rooftops)?…And how dare they invade my country – I only violated 16 U.N. Security Council Resolutions!

    And to those in England, regarding the recent report of a coming generation of homegrown Muslim terrorist attacks, you should just do nothing. Just bend over and take it, like France does. It will all be much easier that way. Anyway, you can just blame George Bush for whatever happens. It’s all his fault.

  4. The assumption that the US is so pathetically weak that we cannot prevail in any contest without abandoning our principles bespeaks an utter, insulting and un-American lack of faith in this country. As for the rest, I’m certain your ignorance is of considerable comfort to you.

  5. Outstanding retort Weldon. Hammer these type till they slither back into their holes.

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