Note: The views expressed herein represent only those of the International
Law Section of the District of Columbia Bar and not those of the D.C.
Bar or of its Board of Governors.
The International Law Section of the D.C. Bar is writing to express our concern about the number and gravity of reported incidents involving the U.S. Government’s detention of persons since September 2001*. These incidents appear to show serious violations of and indifference to international law on the part of some of those in official military and government positions.
The U.S. Government has detained persons around the world, including
at the U.S. bases in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Afghanistan and Iraq, for
months and even years without affording them any access to independent
courts, lawyers or other due process. According to official investigations
of the U.S. Government and reports of international organizations, such
as the International Committee of the Red Cross, U.S. Government officials
have engaged in violations of the rights under international law of
those held in detention. A U.S. military inquiry has found “systemic
and illegal abuse of detainees” at Abu Ghraib. In some cases,
the United States has turned detainees over to foreign intelligence
services in countries such as Syria, whose international human rights
records, according to the U.S. Government and civil society, are deplorable.
The response to these findings and reports by U.S. Government officials to date has not been encouraging. The public has learned that violations of international standards coincide with official high-level policies designed to extract intelligence through methods that are inconsistent with international conventions and international law. Some high-ranking officials of the U.S. Government have criticized publicly the validity of fundamental guarantees of rights of detainees, as contained in instruments such as the Geneva Conventions. Shockingly, the field commander of U.S. troops in Iraq admitted to not knowing the contents of the Geneva Conventions and other applicable humanitarian and international law. Despite expressions of concern from individuals and organizations around the world, the U.S. Government has failed to initiate a comprehensive and independent investigation that will truly establish the sources of suspected violations or take effective action to address the conduct of those involved.
At a time when our Government and the international community are demanding adherence to and improvement of international law and international organizations in order to prevent terrorism and prosecute terrorists, the world’s superpower cannot publicly question or ignore the rule of law. Doing so endangers the security and credibility of American people, both in the United States and abroad, and causes damage to those laws and institutions we seek to strengthen. The International Law Section strongly urges you to act quickly and decisively to thoroughly and comprehensively investigate any alleged abuses and violations of law and take all appropriate action to ensure that such incidents do not recur. Only then will the United States be able to maintain its leadership role in espousing liberty and democracy throughout the world.
District of Columbia Bar
International Law Section
*The views expressed herein represent only those of the International Law Section of the District of Columbia Bar and not those of the D.C. Bar or its Board of Governors. This letter was principally prepared by Section member Bruce Zagaris, a past Chair of the Section’s Public International and Criminal Law Committee, and Mary Pat Michel, a member of the Section’s Steering Committee. The letter was endorsed by the Steering Committee on behalf of the Section’s members. Steering Committee member Peter Choharis abstained from taking a position on the letter.