Dear Senator Klobuchar:
August 1 is the tenth anniversary of the so-called “torture memos” written by the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel’s John Yoo and Jay Bybee. As you told a group of us when we met with you in November 2010, after 9/11 our country engaged in an officially-sanctioned program that included torture. You also said that people — although not line people — should be held accountable, but you would leave those decisions up to the Justice Department.
Well, for reasons not made public by the Justice Department, that hasn’t happened. Accountability, in particular for those who designed and authorized the torture program, simply has not occurred.
And it’s been ten years.
This failure to hold ourselves accountable has taken place while numerous other countries, many with rule of law traditions far less robust than ours, have proceeded to hold their highest-ranking government officials accountable for human rights violations. The title of University of Minnesota Professor Kathryn Sikkink’s recent book, The Justice Cascade, attests to this worldwide trend, a trend we have conspicuously resisted with respect to our own actions. Regrettably, when it comes to accountability, we appear to be a rogue country.
For the last ten years, at least.
In your service on the Senate Judiciary Committee, we have observed you in several Justice Department oversight hearings. We have noted that on a number of occasions you have requested that the Attorney General make a particular concern of yours a priority for the Justice Department. We have wondered why you never suggested that accountability for U.S.-committed torture should also become a priority. Or maybe suggested that the Justice Department reconsider its consistent opposition to courts even hearing claims of alleged torture victims who are civilly seeking redress. That would still have left the decision up to the Justice Department but would also have shown a concern by the legislative branch on this issue.
But for ten years, such suggestions from the Judiciary Committee have been few and far between.
There are, of course, mechanisms of accountability that need not originate in the executive branch, that in fact are more legislative in nature. In our meeting with you, we suggested some of these: the truth commission suggested by Judiciary Committee Chair Leahy that failed for lack of support within the committee; reparations for victims of U.S.-committed torture; official apologies from the Senate to those we have tortured. Maybe we could begin with those whom allied governments have exonerated of any connection to terrorism, e.g., the Canadian government’s findings with respect to Maher Arar. Clearly, these are avenues toward accountability that the branch of government in which you sit — not the Department of Justice — could and should take the lead.
But after ten years, we’re still waiting for such a legislative statesman or stateswoman.
We realize that everyone believes that his or her issue is the most important issue we face, and unless that issue is dealt with, our government has failed. But we sincerely believe that torture is somehow different. Accountability for torture is not just one among many important issues. Rather, it goes to the core of who we are as a nation. If we allow our government to torture in our names, all bets are off. Aggressive, illegal wars; a political system that can be bought; consumers and workers with no protections; a health care/education/economic system that favors the rich. We can’t consistently fight those injustices while acquiescing to torture with impunity.
On this tenth anniversary of those horrific memos, we request that you speak out for accountability, that you consider for the first time posting something about this issue on your website, that you use your upcoming campaign to bring this issue to the people and to call for our nation to confront our recent past.
Shortly before our last meeting with you, that is precisely what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton advised Cambodian officials after she visited a Khmer Rouge torture house. She said, “A country that is able to confront its past is a country that can overcome it.”
It’s been ten years, and we have yet to begin that process. You are uniquely suited — and therefore have a unique responsibility — to lead on this issue: a safe seat, a former prosecutor, a member of the Judiciary Committee, and a senator from a state with as rich a history of human rights advocacy as any in the country.
Ten years is long enough.
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