The World's Jeb Sharp reports that the US government is under increasing pressure to launch an inquiry into the alleged abuse of terrorism suspects. Demonstrators protested outside the White House today. President Obama has so far been reluctant to begin an investigation.
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MARCO WERMAN: A Qatari man held as an enemy combatant for five years in a US Navy brig pleaded guilty today to terrorism charges. Ali al-Marri admitted to training at Al Qaeda camps and having contact with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged 9/11 mastermind. The resolution of Al-Marri's case comes at a time of national soul searching over US policies since 9/11, especially interrogation techniques that many have called torture. There's a clamor for an investigation, perhaps even a truth commission, to help the country move past the alleged abuses. The World's Jeb Sharp reports.
JEB SHARP: President Obama has been exhorting the country to move forward and not dwell on the past, but some advocates say you can't move forward without dealing with the past. They say the United States needs a full investigation of the facts. Juan Mendes is President of the International Center for Transitional Justice. His New York-based organization helps countries around the world respond to past human rights abuses.
JUAN MENDES: What happens if you don't have accountability is that open wounds fester in a society for a long time.
SHARP: Former CIA officer Michael Scheuer says that's nonsense.
MICHAEL SCHEUER: There's no investigation needed. All that's needed is to continue the Pandora's Box that President Obama has opened -- produce all the documents dating back to 1995.
SHARP: Scheuer goes back to 1995 because that's when the US rendition program to send suspects to third countries began under President Clinton. Scheuer believes full disclosure will vindicate US interrogation programs. And he dismisses the notion that some sort of South Africa style truth and reconciliation commission is appropriate here. Daniel Byman doesn't think overseas truth commissions are the right model, either. Byman directs the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University.
DANIEL BYMAN: Most of the parallels people draw, truth commissions and so on, whether South Africa, Peru, or elsewhere tend to be cases where citizens of a country were victims of abuse by the government of that country. And here we have a case where the individuals involved are foreigners, and when it comes to something like waterboarding, are members of a terrorist organization.
SHARP: Proponents of a commission of inquiry acknowledge that key difference â€“ that it wasn't Americans torturing Americans. But they say it shouldn't matter. Again, Juan Mendes.
MENDES: It's different in the sense of need for a constituency, but the standards are very much the same. I mean, there's no difference. The prohibition on torture, for example, doesn't apply to victims who are citizens. It applies to everyone under the jurisdiction of the United States.
SHARP: Mendes would like to see the United States follow Peru's example. That country had both a truth commission and prosecutions in the wake of a terrible conflict marked by human rights abuses. Former President Alberto Fujimori was recently convicted for crimes of abduction, torture, and murder. Mendes's colleague, Lisa Magarell, says Peru may be more analogous to the US situation than people realize. The government was targeting members of the Shining Path guerrillas, who, like Al Qaeda, were considered beyond the pale.
LISA MAGARELL: Terrorists who were part of Shining Path and who committed horrific crimes were also considered not to be worthy of not being tortured and were subjected to indefinite detentions, trials by judges who were masked, and these kind of situations that we see to some extent repeated in the United States.
SHARP: But Georgetown's Daniel Byman, who worked on the 9/11 Commission investigation, says the goals of the Peru process were different from what the US might hope to achieve in any future torture investigation.
BYMAN: The goal here, it would seem to me, would be to put in place a series of safeguards that make sure that abuse of interrogations don't happen even in times of great national stress. That's quite different than the goals of the commissions that happened overseas, where the purpose really was to make sure that individuals in the country who had suffered had some form of psychological release.
SHARP: If there is to be a commission of inquiry, Byman says, it's key that its shapers know exactly what its purpose is. For The World, I'm Jeb Sharp.