Congress Should Hold White House Responsible for Torture

June 21st, 2004 - by admin

Harvard Law School News – 2004-06-21 10:49:04

(June 16, 2004) — A group of more than 450 professors of law, international relations, and public policy – led by Harvard Law School faculty members – today sent a letter calling on Congress to hold accountable, through impeachment and removal if appropriate, civilian officials from the top of the Executive Branch on down for policies developed at high levels that have facilitated the recent abuses at Abu Ghraib. The letter also calls on Congress to take primary responsibility for any policy on coercive interrogation employed by the United States.

In asking Congress to assess Executive Branch accountability, the letter says: “a growing body of evidence indicates that the abuses practiced on detainees under American control are the consequence of policies developed at the highest levels in the months and years immediately preceding the scandal.” It argues that prosecution of lower level personnel “while necessary, is clearly insufficient.”

In asking Congress to take responsibility for reviewing coercive interrogation policies and practices, the letter notes that “official U.S. policy now involves use of coercive methods that are morally questionable and that may violate international and domestic law.” It further states: “….any decision to adopt a coercive interrogation policy and the definition of any such policy, if adopted, should be made within the strict confines of a democratic process…. [B]asic principles and policies regarding human rights must be defined by a representative and accountable body acting in transparent and deliberative fashion.”

Elizabeth Bartholet, one of the Harvard Law professors organizing the letter effort, stated: “The letter arose out of our concern that some of the most fundamental issues raised by these abuses were getting lost in the debate. The use of torture and related extreme coercive techniques goes to the heart of our understanding of our nation, its culture and values. If we take seriously our democratic system, any decision to use such techniques must be made by Congress as the representative body, rather than by Executive Branch officials working in secrecy.”

Christine Desan, another organizer, stated: “As the letter emphasizes, there can be no doubt that the acts of abuse in Abu Ghraib prison constitute violations of both the domestic and international legal obligations of the U.S. and its agents. Executive Branch officials have admitted as much.”

Henry Steiner, director of Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Program, said: “The policies adopted and the abuses to which they led have hurt not only the immediate victims in terrible ways but also the credibility and effectiveness of our country’s efforts in Iraq and elsewhere.”

U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy will hold a press conference in Washington, D.C. today to demonstrate his support for its demands.

“The soldiers responsible for these atrocities need to be held accountable. But they were not responsible for setting the policy,” said Kennedy. “We need to know what orders and guidelines they were given, and where those policies originated. No one should be immune to questions, including the President.”

The letter has been signed by 56 law teachers at Harvard Law School, including former Dean Robert C. Clark, and Professors Laurence Tribe, Alan Dershowitz, Lani Guinier, Detlev Vagts and Frank Michelman. It has also been signed by leading experts on international relations, public policy and constitutional law across the nation, including Yale University Professor Bruce Ackerman; Professor Philip Alston, director of NYU’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice; Jose Alvarez, director of the Center on Global Legal Problems at Columbia Law School; Duke Law School Professor Paul Carrington; Georgetown Law School Professor David Cole; Princeton Professor Richard Falk; Columbia Law School Professor Jack Greenberg; Kennedy School of Government Professor Christopher Jencks; UCLA Law School Professor Kenneth Karst; Juliette Kayyem of the Kennedy School of Government; University of Texas Law School Professor Sanford Levinson; David Scheffer, former U.S. ambassador at large for war crimes issues; and Harvard University Professor William Julius Wilson.

The letter has also been signed by members of the Faculty of the Tufts University Fletcher School.

It has been signed by a total of 481 members of university faculties across the nation, from more than 110 schools in 40 different states. It has been sent to all members of Congress and of the relevant Congressional committees.

The letter and the list of signers as of June 14 is available at