Torture, Accountability, Universal Jurisdiction, Bush, Obama


Grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions are international offenses and perpetrators can be prosecuted abroad if accountability is not pursued at home. The US torture policy, instituted by the Bush administration in the context of the “war on terror” presents a contemporary example of liability for gross crimes under international law. For this reason, classification and secrecy have functioned in tandem as a shield to block public knowledge about prosecutable offenses. Keeping such information secret and publicizing deceptive official accounts that contradict the truth are essential to propaganda strategies to sustain American support or apathy about the country’s multiple current wars. Although a great deal of information and evidence has come to light about the US torture policy, there has been no thorough domestic investigation up the chain of command, no full public disclosure, and no effort to prosecute its intellectual authors in US courts. The classified diplomatic cables allegedly provided to Wikileaks by Bradley Manning have revealed one critical way in which this unaccountability has been enforced. This article addresses four issues: First, a consideration of the importance of accountability for torture and other gross violations of international law; second, a summary of efforts to hold US officials accused of torture-related offenses accountable in European courts; third, an examination of several leaked diplomatic cables that expose the lengths to which both the Bush and Obama administrations have gone to derail these foreign criminal investigations in Germany and Spain; and fourth, the unexpected consequences that leaks played in unleashing anti-authoritarian uprisings in the Arab world and the possibilities of future accountability.