Neither the war on terror nor torture respects borders. A multinational effort is essential to achieve accountability. This article addresses two questions related to definitions and accountability. First, why is there a need for a consistent definition? One lesson from the Bush administration torture memos is the danger of differing definitions. This question is explored by comparing the U.S. approach with that of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), and by examining other national laws and international bodies monitoring torture issues. The second question is: What are the current limitations on available remedies that impede consistent accountability for torture? The article examines criminal and civil options in the United States and in the international criminal tribunals as examples of what we have and what we lack.
The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) excoriated the legal work done by John Yoo and Jay Bybee of the Office of Legal Counsel on the torture memos, but DOJ’s ultimate decision stopped short of referring Yoo and Bybee for professional discipline. Serious questions remain, particularly since the OPR was unable to obtain the testimony of many high-level officials who played critical roles in authorizing torture.
At the January 2009 Association of American Law Schools’ Section on National Security Law panel discussion, I and others urged the incoming Obama administration to make a clear and decisive break with the Bush administration’s national security policies.
After 9/11, two officials at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) made decisions that led to major news. In 2002, one CIA official asked the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) to clarify how aggressive CIA interrogators could be in questioning al Qaeda operatives held overseas. This request led to the August 2002 memorandum, later leaked, in which John Yoo argued that an interrogator crosses the line into torture only by inflicting pain on a par with organ failure. Yoo further suggested that interrogators would have many defenses, justifications, and excuses if they faced possible criminal charges. One commentator described the advice as that of a “mob lawyer to a mafia don on how to skirt the law and stay out of prison.” To cool the debate about torture, the Bush administration retracted the memorandum and replaced it with another.
Several years ago, I began work on a project that I fancied to be both hypothetical and academic. In the aftermath of September 11, a number of commentators, including one prominent member of the legal academy, advanced the proposition that interrogation by torture in pursuit of terrorists should be viewed as permissible under the United States Constitution when undertaken with procedural safeguards. In an article published in 2003, I argued that these commentators were legally sloppy and morally obtuse: no matter what procedures accompany it, interrogation by torture is both at odds with settled constitutional law as it is and profoundly inconsistent with the legal system as it should be.
The issues provoked by the topic of torture are the subject of ongoing debate, not least because new disclosures, sometimes with accompanying leaked government documents, seem to be published almost every day. The year 2004 almost literally ended with the December 30, 2004, publication by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) of a brand new memorandum on the subject, designed to supplant the now notorious August 1, 2002, mem-orandum to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales. The New Year began, not altogether coincidentally, with the consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee of President Bush’s nomination of Gonzales to succeed John Ashcroft as the Attorney General of the United States. Not surprisingly, the issue of torture dominated the testimony.