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.
This article attempts to explore the origin and evolution of the concept of persecution as a crime against humanity in international law. In particular, I will focus on the latest jurisprudence on this matter and will try to highlight the major challenges ahead for tribunals – both domestic and international – when faced with charges of this kind.
The twentieth century will be remembered for the millions of innocent children, women, and men who perished needlessly in war or in large-scale, organized extrajudicial killings. More than 170 million civilians lost their lives, many of them victims of “unimaginable atrocities that deeply shock[ed] the conscience of humanity.”