We have been criticizing President Barack Obama for years over the failure of his Administration to prosecute officials responsible for torture as well as the intentional destruction of torture tapes at the CIA. Now a high-ranking United Nations official is joining the condemnation of Obama and his Administration. Ben Emmerson, U.N. special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights, has condemned the failure to prosecute a single person for the official torture program implemented during the Bush years. The Obama Administration has thrown the books at those who leaked the information on our torture program but Obama himself promised the CIA after his election that CIA personnel would not be prosecuted despite our obligations under international treaty.
Emmerson coupled his criticism with a call for the Obama Administration to release the reports on the U.S. torture program. Despite his pledge of transparency, Obama has kept such reports classified. Emmerson noted that “[d]espite this clear repudiation of the unlawful actions carried out by the Bush-era CIA, many of the facts remain classified, and no public official has so far been brought to justice in the United States.”
As I have written before (here and here), the Obama Administration has destroyed some of the core Nuremburg principles, particularly in its revisal of the “superior orders defense” to excuse U.S. officials. Emmerson specifically criticized the use of this defense that we once rejected by Nazi defendants.
Emmerson is specifically interested in a report by the U.S. Senate select committee on intelligence on our torture program. However, the chair of that select committee — Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California — has long been accused of covering up the program and the knowledge of Democratic leadership during the Bush Administration.
Emmerson’s non-binding report is just another embarrassment that the United States has gone from the leader against torture to the world’s greatest hypocrite on the issue. The fact that Bush ordered such torture is not itself an indictment of this country. We had the ability to redeem ourselves by holding our own officials accountable as we have demanded from other countries. Obama and his Administration denied us that redemption as a nation.