Interview with Dr.Hans-Christof von Sponeck regarding the petition “Stop torture!” The informed citizen holds an instrument of peace in his hand. He merely has to use it by pointing out again and again that the double standard will no longer be accepted.
STOP TORTURE: Accountability: YES – Impunity: NO
Current Concerns: Mr von Sponeck, together with Denis Halliday you published the petition “Stop torture” in reaction to the recently released US Senate Torture Report. What drove you to publish this petition and what effect do you hope this petition to have?
Hans-Christof von Sponeck: This must be seen in connection with the work of the War Crimes Commission, which was created in Kuala Lumpur in 2005. From the beginning it was about gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses and victims of torture and war crimes. This was done to determine whether and how the Convention against Torture of the United Nations and the Geneva Conventions were violated by those in charge of key organi-zations and governments, particularly in Washington and London.
The petition is in response to the statements of the US California Senator Diana Feinstein, Chairman of the US Senate Intelligence Committee. She presented a report on practices of torture by the CIA. The report results in the imperative claim that all who were involved in torturing must be brought to justice. There have not yet been promises to do so, neither by the US Congress nor the US government nor by President Obama.
What are the options of other countries if the US do not respond to this claim?
US authorities have every opportunity – if they have the courage – to implement what has been laid down (about universal jurisdiction) in the constitutions of the various countries, especially European countries. The Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission, to which my predecessor in Baghdad, Denis Halliday, and I belong, have painstakingly interviewed many torture victims who were imprisoned in Bagram, Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo. These interviews revealed the brutality to which they were exposed and their cruel fate. The detailed evidence1 was personally sent in two volumes by the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr Tun Mahathir to the President of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The answer was shocking. He received a letter: “Dear Sir/Madam. Unfortunately, the International Criminal Court has no jurisdiction in such a case.” The ICC did not even give due respect to Dr Mahathir by addressing him properly as a former head of state. They simply sent a standardized letter.
It is a critical challenge to commit ourselves to safeguard that the material which proves so obviously what crimes have been committed is finally considered.
Who can forget the photo of the hooded man, Satar Jabar, tortured with electric shocks in Abu Ghraib? We interviewed this man, we talked with him for a long time. We know first-hand how he was tortured. And we also know that this torture was not only the humiliating act of one ordinary soldier. These procedures were approved at the highest level.
We know from documents that people like the former US Vice President Dick Cheney, Defence Minister Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush himself, Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, the whole cabal of war criminals– as they must be identified – were indeed involved. We also know much more convincingly now, after reading this report, that US officials did not stick to the truth even towards their “friends”. Who can forget what Dick Marty, MP to the European Council, reported. They ridiculed him, saying that it was all nonsense. Condoleezza Rice visited Chancellor Merkel in Berlin, and Mrs Merkel said: “If you tell me that the US government has nothing to do with the rendition flights2 and torture, I believe you.”
It was a lie, and the lies were accepted. It was also known in Berlin, Brussels and London. It was known around the world, even people who were at the sidelines as observers knew that things were odd, that blatant lies were being told. The existence of this report is a ray of hope now. The report on CIA torturing methods shows that at least there are some small groups – their motives aside – who are at least willing to give insight into the truth. This is of great encouragement to us. We appeal to the conscience of governments, but especially to the conscience of the civilian population, to say: “We will not go along with impunity.”
How can we ensure that not only the “small guys” at the end of the chain of command will be held accountable?
Our wish is that people like Bush and Blair will be sent, where an ordinary citizen who has committed such crimes, is sent, namely to jail. This is very unlikely. But I think that Bush and Blair and the minions around the two, have been sitting in a moral prison, for a long time already. Even if they are not really aware of it. The freedom of movement of people such as Henry Kissinger, Tony Blair and George W. Bush is actually quite limited. They know what can happen to them if they move too freely in the world. This is a partial success.
I believe that even these people still have pieces of conscience. They realize the public reaction is not what they expected and I think that is a big step the world conscience has taken. We must continue to work to ensure that somewhere in the world, a court is willing to hear these cases. The international community needs to be aware that this crime is not only (one) for the history books. We hope that the new Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bom Bensouda of Gambia will seize upon what her predecessor failed to do or prevented doing, namely to deal with these cases and to finally make this Criminal Court to become what it should be, namely an instrument of objective justice.
Among others the petition is sent to the UN General Assembly. What are the options at the UN level?
The General Assembly can respond to that report. They can pass a resolution stating that the majority of the 193 Member States conclude that this report is important and necessary steps should be taken. But this will only be accomplished if all those responsible at all levels are held accountable. That would be a desirable and practical response of the General Assembly on this and the other reports. I would like to point out once again what personalities like Dick Marty and others like the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission, in which we also participate, have done. For years, they have pointed to these crimes and we can present it now in a more convincing and reinforced manner, because there has been an official internal US voice. The General Assembly, the Security Council, especially the Human Rights Council in Geneva can and must react.
What options does the civilian population, do the citizens have to lend force to the petition? And what further options do they have?
They have the power of knowledge, and through the power of knowledge they have the power and the responsibility to express themselves, to respond, and thus they have the opportunity to inform all those responsible that they no longer agree and thereby no longer want to be part of this policy of double standards, the policy of lying, the policy of self-interest, the policy of alliance formation, the policy against UN multilateralism.
The informed citizen holds an instrument of peace in his hand. He merely has to use it by pointing out again and again that the double standard will no longer be accepted. You cannot use a double standard when measuring the policies of Syrian President Assad and of other dictators such as King Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain. You cannot (only just) point the finger only at those whom you consider as enemies.
The citizen may point to torture in regions where up to now such crimes have been hidden. All Gulf Arab dictatorships must be held accountable together with others. Citizens are demanding that much more attention be paid to the prevailing double standards and the obligation for accountabillity. And this especially in those countries that have the obsession to continuously telling others how to live, but do not themselves set a moral example to practice what they preach. This is a great opportunity for the global peace movement.
Thank you very much, Mr von Sponeck, for this interview.
1 Further information about the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission can be found on http://criminalise-war.org/
2 Renditions are extraordinary transfers of persons in the “war on terror”, who were arrested on suspicion of terrorism. Here, prisoners are transported to another state without any due process of law of a state. The term “extraordinary rendition” (or short rendition) has become known by the respective program of the CIA, which began in the mid-nineties to track terror suspects abroad, to capture them and to fly them out secretly in private aircraft. The victims of such renditions cannot hope for a fair trial.