Dick Cheney Takes a Trip

Attention Glenn Greenwald, Dahlia Lithwick, Chris Hayes, and others who've been banging this drum: Human Rights Watch (HRW) is asking Canada to bring criminal charges against Dick Cheney, who's visiting there today, for "overwhelming evidence of torture by the Bush administration, including at least two cases involving Canadian citizens."

HRW cannot genuinely expect Canada to risk a diplomatic breach of such enormity with the United States -- especially not after years of South Park urging us to invade our northern neighbor. But the call is getting some play in Canada, and at least keeps alive the outrage toward the man perhaps most responsible for undermining the rule of law in this country after 9/11, thereby abrogating the U.S.'s commitment to the Geneva Conventions and undermining our moral authority worldwide. For many of us, the idea of holding Cheney and crew responsible for what they did in our name seems an impossible dream.

But is it? My hope was on Spain to bring charges -- but that looks unlikely, alas. In 2009 that country's crusading human-rights judge, Baltasar Garzón -- most famous for indicting Chile's Augusto Pinochet -- launched an investigation of six U.S. officials believed to be most culpable for torture under the Bush administration: former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; David Addington, former chief of staff and legal adviser to the vice president; William Haynes, former general counsel for the Department of Defense; Douglas Feith, former undersecretary of defense for policy; Jay Bybee, former head of the Department of Justice's office of legal counsel; and John Yoo, a former member of Bybee's staff. Had it continued, that investigation could have reached Cheney or George W. Bush.

But in 2010, Garzón was suspended and indicted for violating the country's 1977 Amnesty Law by launching an inquiry into Franco's actions during the Spanish Civil War. While his efforts in Spain are suspended, Garzón has been advising the International Criminal Court, including its pursuit of Libya's dictator-in-hiding Colonel Gadhafi. But the International Criminal Court can't charge Cheney and posse because the U.S. is not a party to the ICC -- in part because of fears that U.S. officials and military officers would then be vulnerable to its indictments and investigations.

So where in the world will charges be brought against Cheney and the others responsible for "black sites," "extraordinary rendition," waterboarding, standard operating procedure at Abu Ghraib, and other stains that haunt the American conscience (or should)? HRW hopes that charges will eventually be brought in the United States, said its counterterrorism adviser Laura Pitter, who noted that a complaint was filed in Switzerland last year. (No jetting off to Davos for Cheney, I guess.) "Just because the U.S. has utterly failed to meet its legal obligations to investigate torture, that does not mean other countries are off the hook," she said. "They are parties to the Convention against Torture," which entered into force in June 1987.

Here are two of the Convention's notably relevant clauses:

Article 2 (2). No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture. ...

Article 3 (1). No State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

The U.S. signed the Convention in 1988,and actually entered it into force in 1994. Check out the other signatories here. Perhaps England would like to step up? Do I hear Italy? Costa Rica? The Vatican?

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