In the name of countering terrorism, the USA has violated the rights of individuals in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo and elsewhere. The human rights violations committed by and on behalf of the USA since 11 September 2001 are many and varied. This has been confirmed by documents, photographs, declassified legal opinion and official statements.
These violations have included enforced disappearances; torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, in some instances leading to deaths in custody; prolonged incommunicado detention; other forms of arbitrary and indefinite detention; secret transfers of detainees between countries; and violations of the right to fair trial.
Since President Barack Obama took office, more details of the abuse of detainees during his predecessor’s term in office have emerged, triggering a debate on accountability, including whether there should be investigations and prosecutions. Nevertheless, no action has been announced by the new administration to investigate and prosecute those responsible and many details surrounding these violations remain classified as secret.
The US government needs to demonstrate that it is genuinely and wholly committed to its international human rights obligations. To do so, the new administration and congress must not only address ongoing violations but must also ensure that truth and accountability for past violations are prioritized. A commitment to ending impunity would demonstrate that the USA is serious about dealing with past human rights violations but also committed to preventing such abuses recurring.
Holding perpetrators accountable for human rights violations is not only a matter of principle, but also a matter of law. Under international law the USA must thoroughly investigate every violation of human rights and bring those responsible to justice no matter what their current or former level of office.
Victims, their families and society as a whole have to right to know the truth about the violations, their causes and facts, the circumstances under which they occurred and, to the fullest extent practicable, to know the identity of the perpetrators. All victims have the right to redress and remedy for the violations to which they were subjected, including compensation, restitution, rehabilitation and guarantees of non-repetition.