Paisley Dodds and Raphael G. Satter
LONDON — It has been one of the most bitter legal debates during the so-called war on terror – who’s to blame for torture and how many degrees of separation does it take to dodge a lawsuit?
Lawyers say the answer may lie in recently leaked documents, which human rights groups and some Iraqi civilians hope will be a treasure trove of evidence that could prove U.S. and other coalition forces broke a cardinal rule of international law – handing over terror suspects when they had good reason to believe the detainees would be tortured.
The Pentagon has criticized the whistleblowing organization WikiLeaks for publishing nearly 400,000 U.S. military logs detailing daily carnage in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. In July, the same group published 77,000 secret documents on the war in Afghanistan.
The classified logs on Iraq describe detainees abused by Iraqi forces, insurgent bombings, sectarian executions and civilians shot at checkpoints by U.S. troops. They also chart how coalition troops handed Iraqis back to security forces after suspicions that the Iraqis were abusing or torturing detainees.
Lawyers say the once-secret logs are different from other leaks because of the vast amount of material presented and the number of potential breaches of international law.
“If a state knows that there’s a real risk that a person will be tortured by another state, they simply cannot transfer that person to the other country’s custody,” said Phil Shiner of U.K.-based Public Interest Lawyers, which represents some 130 Iraqi civilians who allege ill-treatment by Britain’s armed forces.
But not everyone agrees that torture is avoidable during war, let alone just how far an occupying power should go to make sure terror suspects aren’t tortured and abused – especially in the case of Iraq, which is a sovereign state.