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Criminal Responsibility and Guantanamo: Philippe Sands

Waow! Yesterday I went to a lecture delivered by Human Rights lawyer Philippe Sands, hosted by Queens University School of Law. The Lecture was based on Philippe Sands book "Torture Team: Deception Cruelty and the Compromise of Law". I will not attempt to paraphrase the complexity of Sands arguments, although this Guardian article  summarises it very comprehensively. However I was struck by the fact that it is the committed and relentless detective work by lawyers such as Sands, and some journalists, that holds our governments to account when our parliaments seem unwilling or unable to do so.

 In short, after watching the film "Judgement at  Nuremburg"  Sands wondered to what extent Lawyers who gave willfully corrupt legals advice could be held responsible for War Crimes. This lead him to interview all of the key legal players involved in giving advice to the Bush administration about the legality of circumventing the Geneva Convention on torture and cruel and degrading treatment.  What he uncovered was a clear case of scape-goating the junior ranked officials and getting at best shaky legal advice to justify the torture of Mohammed Al Qahtani, who was suspected of being the 20th high-jacker. These "rigorous interrogation methods" (read torture) which were also  used against other  detainees in Guantanamo and at black sites, were then Ok-ed by Donald Rumsfeld in a memo signed on Decmber 2nd 2002, and later ruled unlawful by the US Supreme Court. 

The narrative is itself worthy of a great conspiracy " thriller"  and would seem almost unbelievable except that its true. Due to Sands's book a congressional committee is now investigating the flouting of article 3 and all but one of the lawyers names by Sands is testifying, the only one who refused to so so voluntarily has been supoenaed . 

 Sands drew parallels in his lecture ( and to the committee) to the ruling of the European court  about the "five techniques" used in Northern Ireland, and speculates that the use of what in effect was torture perpetuated the conflict in Northern Ireland. While why  the conflict in Northern Ireland continued for so long can be traced to the complex interplay  of a larger number of issues, it cannot be denied that prisoners and the treatment of prisoners was a hugely significant  and symbolic factor. 

 The lecture gave us all food for thought , but I was left wondering if criminal responsibility may lie with the legal team, where does that leave other coalition partners such as the UK? Or at the very least individuals who knew about the torture and were therefore complicit.

 On May 11th, only 3 days before this lecture, charges were dropped against Mohammed Al Qahtani, many think that is because the use of torture makes his evidence in-admissable. So the Bush administration had flouted the Geneva Convention and the Torture Treaty, heralding one of the most shameful periods in US history for absolutely nothing.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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