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The United States Needs Transitional Justice

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 22/02/2016 Jack Healey

Following Donald Trump's crushing victory in the New Hampshire primary, a viral video of him calling fellow candidate Ted Cruz a "pussy" grows even more important.
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Once again, the media picked up the sensationalism of Trump's use of vulgarity and lack of political correctness; however, they neglected to report Trump's pro-torture platform. While Trump has defended himself, stating that he was only repeating what a woman in the crowd said, the crowd's reaction was worrisome. By calling Cruz a "pussy," Trump, insinuated that Cruz was inept for refusing to reinstitute waterboarding. The crowd was not in stunned silence following Trump's antic. Quite the contrary, cheers erupted in a chant of, "Trump... Trump.... Trump." Their reaction expresses an inability to accept the human rights violations conducted by the United States following the four strikes of 9/11.

In light of vast evidence, many in the United States still refute the government's brutal and systematic regime of torture. The 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture, which took five years and $40 million dollars to compile, provides undisputable evidence of the horrors committed by the CIA. In regards to waterboarding, the CIA conducted brutal interrogations. The international human rights community recognizes waterboarding as a form of torture; yet, the US government developed and sanctioned guidelines to limit the brutality of the CIA's "enhanced interrogations." Under these guidelines, operatives were to restrict airflow to the lungs for only 20-40 seconds while pouring water over a detainees face in a controlled manner. These sanctions were rarely followed. Video footage shows operatives throwing large amounts of water over detainees for minutes at a time. The Senate report found waterboarding to be "physically harmful, inducing convulsing and vomiting." The report goes on to state that Khalid Shaykh Mohammad, the man considered the architect behind the 9/11 attacks, was waterboarded 183 times in a month, which officials constituted as a "series of near drownings."

The US government created a bureaucratic regime of torture. We played with fire, and abuse quickly escalated. Not only did operatives ignore the "guidelines" for torture, they developed their own unsanctioned tactics. The 2009 CIA Inspector General Report discloses in the interrogation of Al-Nashiri, the mastermind behind the bombing of the USS Cole, operatives placed an unloaded handgun to his head and threatened him with a power drill. Both of these tactics led Al-Nashiri to believe he would not leave CIA custody alive. Under the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Convention against Torture, the CIA actions distinctly fell under the definition of torture. Despite this, there has been no accountability for the horrendous atrocities committed by the CIA. There has not been a single prosecution as The Department of Justice has refused to prosecute any one of these violations.
Human Rights violations in the Americas are by no means unique to the US, however, the US stands as an outlier in its refusal to search for justice in the aftermath of abuses. South and Central America are widely considered the global model for transitional justice, a nation's ability, through judicial or non-judicial action, to provide redress for previous human rights abuses. The International Center for Transitional Justice sees Argentina as the example for transitional justice in the Americas. Argentina has sought justice for the gross injustice, namely disappearances and torture, conducted under the military regime that lasted from 1976-1983. Initial attempts to prosecute human rights violators following the 1864 Nuncas Más (Never Again) report saw early success as nine military leaders were convicted of war crimes. However, a military backlash forced the government to suspend its investigation into the military's crime, pass blanket amnesty laws, and provide presidential pardons to the convicted. Despite setbacks, the International Center for Transitional Justice reports that human rights groups continued to lobby for justice. In 2001, the blanket amnesty laws were deemed unconstitutional.
Prosecutors reopened cases against war criminals. Further progress was made when the Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the presidential pardons of 1985 were unconstitutional. Naomi Roht-Arriaza of World Politics Review reported in 2014 that 2,071 individuals had been prosecuted, resulting in 370 convictions. Similarly, Chile struggled to bring its war criminals to justice. Like Argentina, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet established amnesty laws to curtail investigations into the military's human rights abuses for 1973-1978. Following the fall of Pinochet, democratically elected leader Patricio Aylwin promised to redress abuses. Roht-Arriaza states Chile's path to justice has not focused heavily on prosecution; rather, they have established a repartitions program. The Chilean government allocated a lump-sump compensation and pension to the families of suffered under the military regime. Chile has also provided families and torture survivors with free medical programs and psychological care.
More recently, transitional justice has reared its head in Columbia. Although Columbia has been engaged in the longest armed conflict in the Western hemisphere, in 2015 the FARC began peace talks with the government. Columbia Reports states, as part of these peace talks, the government seeks to hold accountable those, directly and indirectly, involved in human rights abuses. Columbia Reports has compiled a cohesive list the possible punishments for human rights abusers. The FARC members who take responsibility for their actions will serve on public work projects designed to assist the victims of their abuse. Members who admit to serious war crimes will face 5-8 years of restricted freedom in a non-traditional setting. Those who refuse to admit guilt will face the most serious penalty, 20 years behind bars. As Columbia attempts to reunite its nation, their government understands the importance of championing human rights and holding violators responsible for their actions. Argentina, Columbia and Chile serve as examples of highly successful transitional justice programs; however, progress is being made all over South American in nations such as: Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Peru.
Even Canada has administered transitional justice. When one thinks of our northern neighbors, our minds drift to maple syrup, cold weather, and politeness, not human rights abuses. However, Canada has committed atrocities, and like the nations of South America, they have sought justice. In 2008, Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper offered an apology statement to former students of the Indian Residential Schools. His apology outlined a long-lasting policy of abuse against Canada's aboriginal communities. Beginning in the 1870's, the Canadian government began to separate Aboriginal children from their families, communities, and traditions and forced them into Indian Residential Schools. The idea being that Aboriginal culture was inferior and children must assimilate into dominate society. Over the course of a century, 150,000 children would pass through the system. Many survivors carry stories of emotionally, physical, and sexual abuse. Harper made his apology on behalf of all Canadians. Similar to Chile, the Canadian government established a compensation program, which, according to the Government of Canada's website, paid out $1.6 billion to surviving victims.
Transitional justice has become mainstream in the Americas, yet, the US remains stubbornly resistant to accountability for its use of torture. Admitting we tortured was a step in the right direction. This admittance came in Obama's infamous "we tortured some folks" address, in which no form of apology can be found for the actions of the CIA. Since this address, the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture has only further proved US culpability. Despite the detailed accounts of abuse, no attempt to administer justice has been made. Those who created a regime of institutional terror are allowed to enjoy their retirement peacefully. Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Mike Hayden should be behind bars. These men created an administrative system that did not control torture but gave a green light for interrogators to violate people over and over.
Before we can reach the prosecution phase of transitional justice, we must accept responsibility for our actions following 9/11. Our government committed atrocities unbeknownst to the American public. Our government tortured people. Our government abandoned international human rights standards on the pretense of protecting national security. The Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture admits that torture was not an effective means to acquire intelligence. However, as the climate of the current political race shows, we continue to disregard our wrongs. This must change.

We must push for transitional justice. We cannot let the men that perpetrated these abuses escape justice. These men should be tried in the International Criminal Court for violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention against Torture. If we elect Trump, justice will not be sought. With a Trump victory, the US breach of human rights for the sake of national security will not be just a blemish on our recent history but the norm.

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