America's claim to have helped Iraq to democracy is hollow until the US makes Bush era officials accountable for torture
Ben Emmerson Guardian/UK 7 March 2013
The investigation by the Guardian and the BBC into direct Pentagon involvement in the systematic torture of Sunni insurgents in Iraq is a bloody reminder of the catastrophe that the 2003 invasion wreaked on the people of Iraq. It also a key reason behind the decade of sectarian violence the war has left in its wake.
After a decade of the most extreme bloodshed on both sides, the Sunni minority is now asserting its collective muscle in an organised fashion. The rebellion in neighbouring Syria, which began as essentially secular resistance movement, has attracted Sunni extremist groups from across the globe in support of the effort to bring down President Assad. Armed by regional troika of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, they are now about to be provided with military support by the west, including Britain, in an echo of the strategy under which western countries provided firepower to support the Islamist rebel forces in Libya.
This, in turn, has emboldened the Sunni minority, comprising a fifth of Iraq's population, which has been holding large-scale public demonstrations. Their attempt to mount a cross-sectarian challenge to the government in Baghdad has also attracted the support of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The essentially pluralist administration in Baghdad is committed to the re-integration of the Sunni minorities into positions of responsibility in Iraq. My UN mandate is to work closely with the government and civil society in Iraq, aiming to delivering cross-sectarian initiatives that will stem the flow of violence. The government is in no doubt that the causes of the deep-seated sectarian violence in the country lie in the excessive and extreme policy of de-Ba'athification pursued by the US administration under the now discredited Paul Bremmer.
During the Saddam era, membership of the Ba'ath party was effectively a prerequisite for public employment in positions of any responsibility. Expelling all Sunni members of the Ba'ath party from the administration was ill-judged. Individuals who had no connection whatsoever with the crimes of the former regime were ignominiously put out of their jobs and often their homes. Almost overnight, a privileged Sunni ruling class was turned into a marginalised minority, with access to weapons, and nothing to do except hate.
Into this tinderbox, the Bush-era Pentagon, the CIA, and their proxies among the brutal Shia militias, threw the lighted match of systematic torture. Suspected Sunni insurgents were rounded up and subjected the most brutal forms of torture under the eyes of American agents. The Guardian/BBC investigation advances our knowledge of this criminal conspiracy, taking it right to the heart of the Bush administration.
This week, I presented a report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva calling on the US and other states, including the UK, to secure accountability for the crimes committed by the Bush-era CIA and its allies in the counterproductive campaign of rendition, secret detention and torture. To the list of international crimes committed by that administration must now be added the evidence uncovered by the Guardian and the BBC.
This latest investigations presents an image of lawlessness and hypocrisy that is antithetical to building international co-operation with the Islamic peoples of the Middle East and North Africa. The urgent and imperative need to develop an international consensus in favour of ethical counter-terrorism was underlined by William Hague in a recent speech. He said that where allegations of this kind are made, they must be fully investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. One can only hope that he will be impressing upon the US Department of Justice the need for an investigation into the allegations against David Petraeus and others.
Iraq is in desperate need of reconciliation initiatives. There may well be a case for an effective truth and reconciliation commission. But before reconciliation, there must be reckoning with the past. Justice for the perpetrators of these crimes is an essential prerequisite to peace and stability in the region. [Abridged]