U.N. Torture Expert Says U.S. Should Probe Bush-Era Torture Claims With Intention to Prosecute

November 18, 2010 - 5:59 AM

Juan Mendez

Juan Mendez of Argentina was appointed this month as the U.N. Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on torture. When this 2005 picture was taken, he was serving in a different capacity, as the secretary-general’s special advisor on the prevention of genocide. (UN Photo by Mark Garten)

(CNSNews.com) – The U.N. Human Rights Council’s newly installed expert on torture says the Obama administration should investigate allegations of torture under President George W. Bush and prosecute those responsible – including those who gave the orders.

Juan Ernesto Mendez said in an interview with Reuters this week he hoped to visit Iraq to investigate alleged detainee torture as well as the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba – but only on the condition that he would be allowed to speak privately with terror suspects being held there.

“The United States has a duty to investigate every act of torture,” Reuters quoted him as saying. “Unfortunately, we haven't seen much in the way of accountability.”

“There has to be a more serious inquiry into what happened and by whose orders,” said Mendez. “It doesn’t need to be seen to be partisan or vindictive, just an obligation to follow where the evidence leads.”

Mendez, a lawyer from Argentina, was appointed early this month as the Geneva-based Human Rights Council’s “special rapporteur” on torture

As CNSNews reported recently, Mendez is former president of the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), an organization that calls for those responsible for rights abuses committed during the war on terror to face criminal prosecutions.

ICTJ said in a 2009 briefing note that it is not enough to hold accountable “only those who carried out orders or whose actions went beyond the stated government policy,” but that “prosecutions should focus on policy-makers and high-level officials.”

Bush's book

President George W. Bush's new book "Decision Points" went on sale on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2010. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

The subject of torture returned to the headlines this month with the publication of former President Bush’s memoir, in which he said he had personally approved the “waterboarding” of senior al-Qaeda terrorist Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

State Department legal advisor Harold Hongju Koh told a Nov. 5  press conference in Geneva that the Obama administration “defines waterboarding as torture as a matter of law under the Convention Against Torture.”

The Convention Against Torture, a U.N. treaty which the U.S. ratified in 1994, calls on states to criminalize torture and prosecute “complicity or participation in torture.”

Mendez, who was himself tortured in military-ruled Argentina during the 1970s, told the Australian broadcaster ABC there was no “serious question” that waterboarding – an interrogation method that simulates drowning – constitutes torture under international law.

“I mean, it’s a question of severity,” he said. “If you think that waterboarding is not severe mistreatment you don’t really know what waterboarding is.”

Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union and others have called for U.S. authorities to investigate whether Bush should be prosecuted.

In an earlier acknowledgment that he endorsed Mohammed’s waterboarding, made during an appearance in Michigan last June, Bush said that he would “do it again to save lives.”

Khalid Sheik Mohammed masterminded al-Qaeda’s attacks on the U.S. on 9/11.

Almost 3,000 people were killed when 19 terrorists seized passenger planes and flew two of them into the World Trade Center in New York City and a third into the Pentagon. A fourth plane went down in rural Pennsylvania after passengers confronted the hijackers.