Obama’s policy with regard to the investigation of Bush-era crimes against humanity has been “Look Forward, Not Backward.” Aside from the immorality of allowing these crimes to go unpunished, not investigating them is a violation of international law. The UN’s chief investigator on torture, Manfred Nowak, has said that failure to prosecute those suspected of engaging in it is a dereliction of the United States’ obligations under the UN Convention against Torture.

The crimes themselves are grievous.The so-called War on Terror has been the occasion and justification for a terrible, though not unprecedented, campaign of prisoner abuse. In Bagram prison in Afghanistan, in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, in Guantanamo Bay and in numerous “black sites” around the world, members of the American armed forces, American intelligence operatives and mercenaries in the employ of the United States have inflicted cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment on prisoners, many of whom were later found to be completely innocent.

Here is an incomplete catalogue of state-sanctioned cruelty:

  • In October 2003, Manadel al-Jamadi was apprehended by American special forces soldiers in Baghdad. He was suspected of being involved in the bombing of a Red Cross office in the city. He was repeatedly interrogated until November 4, at which point he was handcuffed to a wall and beaten. He lost consciousness and died during this “interrogation.” A post mortem showed the cause of death to be a blood clot as a result of trauma.
  • At the Bagram Theater Internment Facility in Afghanistan, an Afghani taxi driver called Dilawar was tortured to death on December 10, 2002. He had been chained to the ceiling of his cell for extended periods of time and savagely beaten about the legs for the amusement of his captors. When he was beaten he screamed, “Allah!” It appears that military personnel beat him just to hear this cry. He was eventually found dead in his cell, still chained to the ceiling. He is not thought to have committed any crime.
  • On June 9, 2006, at Guantanamo Bay, three detainees died as a result of torture. Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, from Yemen, Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi, from Saudi Arabia, and Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani, also from Saudi Arabia, were on hunger strike to protest their abuse at the hands of military police. Although their deaths were reported to be suicides, a whistle-blowing seargeant later revealed that the three had died as a result of rags being stuffed down their throats. None of the men had been charged with any crime.

These men’s deaths are not isolated incidents. Various sources place the number of deaths as a result of interrogation of prisoners at over 100. General Barry McCaffrey, a four star general and 32-year veteran of the United States Army, has stated: “We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the CIA.”

Nor was the campaign of torture carried out without the complicity of George W. Bush and the upper echelons of his administration. Bush-era Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld is known to have personally authorized the torture of certain prisoners and to have legitimized the use of water-boarding, along with other “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Bush himself was engaged with the question of what kind of interrogation techniques were acceptable. In a set of memoranda written by Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo in 2002, and intended as advice for the president and the CIA, the Bush-era legal position on torture is spelled out. The only treatment recognized as torture in the memoranda is treatment that results in “death, organ failure, or serious impairment of body functions,” effectively giving them carte blanche to inflict pain and suffering up to this arbitrary level.

Although Obama repudiated the policy on torture laid out in the “Torture Memos,” he has done his utmost to ensure that the implementers of that policy are not brought to justice. When a case taken by the ACLU resulted in a court order to release photos of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, he blocked the release.

When Spain tried to prosecute former US government officials for their involvement in establishing policies that led to the torture of detainees, Obama, in concert with the Republican party, put pressure on the Spanish government not to pursue the investigation.

Even though US Attorney General Eric Holder’s express wish is for the Justice Department to investigate practices of torture by Americans during Bush’s administration, Obama has prevented him from launching any such probe. He has also pressured the United States Congress not to hold hearings on the matter.

In light of the continued abuse of Bradley Manning, the current policy of “Look Forward, not Backward” is all the more sinister. As abominable as it is to allow such crimes to go unpunished when they are a thing of the past, it is even more disgraceful when they, to all appearances, continue to this day.