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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A tragic anniversary marks the ongoing erosion of the rule of law

On January 11, 2002, 20 captives from the war in Afghanistan were brought to the Guantánamo Bay detention camp and one of the most ignominious chapters in our nation’s history began. On January 11 of this year, after nine years, over 170 are still there, making a mockery of fundamental principles of American justice and the rule of law.

The abuses of Guantánamo are well documented and Alliance for Justice has signed a letter with over 100 other organizations calling for the detention center to be closed and for the Obama Administration to either charge or release the prisoners held there.

Critically, the letter also calls for accountability for the crimes committed against detainees in Guantánamo or elsewhere, including torture and other violations of human rights. It is startling that in spite of significant documentation of the unconscionable and illegal abuse of prisoners, not a single American official has been held publically accountable or referred to a grand jury for prosecution. It is a sad day for the rule of law when former President George Bush can go on national television and admit to authorizing torture in direct contravention to American and international law, and not feel the slightest compunction about doing so.

We remain particularly disturbed that the lawyers who authored memoranda authorizing torture, and whose actions can only be described as a willful perversion of well-established legal principles, have escaped personal or professional responsibility for their actions. For example, John Yoo is a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley and Jay Bybee was given a lifetime appointment to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. No formal action has been taken by any official entity, including the Justice Department or a court of law, to hold any of them accountable or to definitively refute the theories they propounded in the memos, which sought to manufacture a legal framework to justify Bush Administration crimes.

The anniversary we mark with sadness today is a reminder of the fragility of the rule of law and of what is at stake when that principle is ignored. It’s not too late to hold accountable many of the architects of the brutal and illegal policies of the Bush Administration. The Justice Department should appoint an independent prosecutor with a mandate to investigate torture and other crimes and to establish once and for all that we are a nation of laws and that no one is exempt from obeying them, not even the most powerful among us.

As the Guantánamo Bay detention camp enters its tenth year, not only does the fate of the remaining prisoners hang in the balance, so too do the integrity of our legal system and the soul of our nation.

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