With the Obama Administration pursuing torture charges, the Center for Constitutional Rights' Michael Ratner explains why the CCR joined the European Commission of Human Rights to file charges in German Court
Michael Ratner is President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York and Chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. He is currently a legal adviser to Wikileaks and Julian Assange. He and CCR brought the first case challenging the Guantanamo detentions and continue in their efforts to close Guantanamo. He taught at Yale Law School, and Columbia Law School, and was President of the National Lawyers Guild. His current books include "Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in the Twenty-First Century America," and “ Who Killed Che? How the CIA Got Away With Murder.” NOTE: Mr. Ratner speaks on his own behalf and not for any organization with which he is affiliated.
Cased Filed in European Court Against Bush-Era TortureSHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: This is The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. Welcome to this edition of the Michael Ratner report.
Fallout continues from the Senate CIA torture report and the unwillingness of the Obama administration to hold anyone accountable for their torturing. On Wednesday, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights filed a criminal complaint in Germany against former CIA had George Tenet, former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and other members of the Bush administration for their roles in torture.
Joining us from New York, New York, to discuss all of this is Michael Ratner. Michael Ratner is the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, and he is also a board member of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin.
Michael, thank you so much for joining us.
MICHAEL RATNER, PRESIDENT EMERITUS, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: Sharmini, it's always good to be with you and The Real News.
PERIES: Michael, since President Obama is not bringing about charges and the Senate Intelligence Committee did not recommend charging the torturers, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights decided that they needed to take some action. Tell us more.
RATNER: You know, the torture report which came out, and, of course, a lot of evidence we had before, really screamed that people have to be investigated and prosecuted for torture. It's completely clear. The Obama administration is not really doing anything. Obama has said, let's look forward, not backward, etc. I think we all know that story. This country isn't about to do a thing.
But it's a very different situation in Europe. For a number of years, we've tried to bring cases in Europe, but now, in light of the torture report, I think we have a much, much better chance. And already the fact that we've brought some cases are having a major effect, which is one of the effects we want, on people from the CIA.
I understand from a lawyer I work with, Scott Horton, who is also a columnist at Harper's, that over 100 CIA agents have already been warned by the lawyers for the agency that they should not leave the United States, certainly not go to Europe, because they could be arrested and prosecuted for torture. That's already pretty remarkable considering how reluctant this country has been to hold accountable its own torturers.
PERIES: And how effective is that? The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights already has charges against Dick Cheney, for example. How effective has that been?
RATNER: Well, what's happened over time has been, starting in 2004, a man named Wolfgang Kaleck and myself and the Center for Constitutional Rights began the first prosecutions against Rumsfeld in Berlin. We failed in that one, and we started another one in 2006. We also didn't succeed in that one.
Out of those prosecutions, of course, came--maybe not of course, but people don't know--came a new organization that was founded called the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. Through that vehicle, through the Center for Constitutional Rights, we started other cases in Europe not just against the CIA, but against Rumsfeld, against the Pentagon. After all, what happened in black sites, dark sites, in half a dozen countries, is not the only torture that occurred. There was torture at Abu Ghraib, torture at Guantanamo, torture in U.S. prisons around the world. We started cases against Bush in Switzerland. We didn't win that case. We started a case in France as well. But as a result of those cases, neither Bush nor Rumsfeld are at this point willing to go to Europe, as far as I can understand, and because of those cases and their fears. We also started a case in Spain with regard to Guantanamo. That is doing quite well. It's continued. It's looking at Jeffrey Miller, who was the head of Guantanamo, and others, around the torture in Guantanamo.
Now, there's a special link with Spain, because four of the people at Guantanamo were either residents or citizens of Spain, and that means under Spanish law there's a special hook for jurisdiction. I want to say a word about jurisdiction and then talk a bit about the new case we brought the other day in Germany. Torture is considered an international crime. It's considered a crime in which torturers can be brought to justice wherever they are in the world. And it's called universal jurisdiction. Almost every nation-state has the ability to do that, and is required, actually, to do it under the Convention against Torture. Spain has it, Switzerland has it, the U.S. has it. Other countries have it as well. What it means is that these countries have to look at these cases when we bring them. At the same time, if one of their citizens is one of the people tortured, they have a link that makes it much more likely to actually deal with the case. So that's why we still have a case pending in Spain.
Now I want to tell you about what I consider very exciting news about what the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights did two or three days ago. They brought a case in Berlin, another case against George Tenet, CIA head, former head; Cheney, former vice president, who admits openly that engaging in what he doesn't call torture, but what was torture--and says he would do it again; and against lawyers who were involved in setting up this torture scheme by protecting the torturers, some of the torturers themselves, some of the people involved in this program. They brought that case in Europe in front of the prosecutor.
And it's interesting also, as an aside to people in the United States. Unlike Europe, unlike the United States and Europe, you can go to criminal--you can bring criminal charges yourself. In the U.S. you have to go to the district attorney and decide when the district attorney decides, am I going to charge the person or not. In Europe you can go directly. That doesn't mean they'll always consider the case in the court, but you can go directly.
So now this case in Germany has been filed. And what's important about it is, despite the fact we've lost two times in Germany, is the changing mood is the first thing that's important. Look it, Germany was just hit hard by revelations of the U.S. and the NSA doing spying on everybody from Merkel to what it does in its diplomatic relations to everything else. And then what came out in the torture report--and we knew a little bit of this before, but the torture report confirms--is that a man named Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was a completely innocent German citizen, was mistakenly identified as a terrorist. And he got off a bus in Macedonia. He'd been going for vacation. He was taken by the CIA to Afghanistan to a place called the "Salt Pit", which is known as--I think it's called Operation or Camp COBALT in the CIA report on torture, and he was tortured there for four months. And he was tortured there despite the fact that at some point they knew he was innocent, they'd gotten the wrong man, despite complaints by the German government, and they continued to torture him. He eventually gets released--well, released is a funny word. He gets taken out of the Salt Pit, put into some woods in a forest in Albania, and just dropped off, and then eventually makes his way back to Germany. He provides link with the German criminal prosecution, and of course with the very people who sent that meant to be tortured, and continue to have him tortured after they knew he was innocent. So that's the German case.
Now, what they ask for in the German case is not just about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, but they asked about the whole--ask about prosecution of the whole lot of people we've talked about--Rumsfeld, Cheney, the whole crowd. And they not only asked for their prosecution; they also asked that the prosecutor monitor and Europe monitor the comings and goings of the people on the list that is being compiled and is partly already submitted of the CIA and other torturers.
Well, let me tell you, if you're sitting there as a CIA guy, you're not about to travel to Europe for any good reason, because the last thing you want to happen is you get tossed into some prison, and then a court that may well try you for torture.
Now, the key paragraph of this complaint that was just filed by the European Court, by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, of which I am a board member--Wolfgang Kaleck is the head of it--the key paragraph says this: the U.S. ran a state-organized program of torture, authorized at the highest levels, and carried out around the world in Afghanistan, Guantanamo, Iraq, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.
Now, when I read that paragraph, I think: that reminds me of Operation Condor. That was a similar worldwide program carried out by Pinochet from Chile after the coup in 1973. And that's what we have here. So that's what we have [incompr.] CIA people are frightened. That's why I think we're actually making great progress in this respect.
Now, as I said, the German case is not the only one. We [incompr.] pending in the Spanish national court, and there will be others as we move forward, because I think Europe is a ripe area for now bringing these international prosecutions.
PERIES: But why aren't you taking this up in the United States?
RATNER: So that you cannot file them in the United States. I can knock on the prosecutor's door, I can knock on Holder's door and say, please prosecute, and he can just say, well, Michael, it's nice to hear you, we'll think about it, and nothing happens.
In Europe you could actually file a criminal complaint, and the court has to decide whether to look at it or not. And, sure, there's politics to it, but there's also law to it. They actually have to consider it up to a certain point. And if you get a good independent investigating judge--and you remember Judge Garzón in Spain. He's the one who actually indicted Augusto Pinochet for the killings and murders and disappearances in Chile. That's what can happen.
And we've actually had a successful prosecution in Italy of 22 CIA agents. A number of years ago, a man, an Egyptian sheik named Abu Omar, who was kidnapped off the streets of Milan, a brave, strong investigating judge who is independent--I want to stress this--independent of the political system in Italy, just as Garzon was independent of the political system in Spain, began a prosecution, indicted and convicted 22 CIA agents. Now those 22 agents basically have been convicted. They've been sentenced to prison. If they come to Europe, they'll be slapped into a cell.
So the difference between Europe and the United States on this is political, yes, but it's also a different system of how you get criminal prosecutions. Here in the United States we don't have that ability. Sure, we've tried, and we try and we send complaints to the government and we ask them to do it. Of course we have. And what we have now is a situation where our country, the United States, is not carrying out its legally mandated duty under the Convention against Torture, which it has ratified. It's required to invest and prosecute. It hasn't done. And because of that, Europe also has an extra duty to do it, because if the home country where the torture occurred or the torturers are residing doesn't do it, then Europe has an extra obligation to do that. Other countries in the world as well. This could happen in Argentina, which has quite a good universal jurisdiction system. This could happen in other countries.
So I've got to tell you: these CIA people, these military people, these people like Cheney, they have to be very, very nervous about this, because we're talking about really being on the edge of not only keeping them out of Europe, but probably on the edge of success in some of these cases when one of these people--and they're not all guys--I hesitate to say this--there are some women here, too--hesitate to say, when they cross the border in a country that actually is looking at these people, they will wind up in great difficulty.
PERIES: As always, thank you for joining us today.
RATNER: And thank you to The Real News for having me.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.