Torture: Leadership Requires Accountability, All the Way to the Top

We learned this week that the CIA destroyed tapes of American officials committing torture. The American people deserve to know whether laws were violated and whether the President was directly involved in illegal activities. Torture is a black and white moral issue. A failure to act decisively in this case will be an unacceptable failure of leadership.

Torture is un-American, it violates international law, and it is wrong. And when I am President, I will make sure that those who are responsible for torture are held accountable for their actions.

When I have secured the release of people held in captivity overseas, I have seen the fear in the eyes of captured men and women, and I have spoken with their scared families. To them, the Geneva Convention is not "quaint" or outdated; it is the bedrock institution guaranteeing that no one -- no matter how powerful -- is above the law.

And yet, in the thirteen months since winning back the House and Senate, Democrats in Congress have done too little to force this administration to stop torturing.

Perhaps one reason that Bush and Cheney have been so comfortable with torture is that they feel they will never be held accountable for their actions.

Indeed, despite consistently stating that they can't accomplish anything because they lack a filibuster-proof majority, Senate Democrats failed even to block an Attorney General who equivocated on torture.

They have taken no action on the International Criminal Court.

They have failed to appoint a Special Prosecutor to provide for high-level accountability.

They failed to restore habeas corpus.

They have done nothing to enforce the Constitution or any of our laws against torture.

This must change. If Congress won't act, then our next President must.

The next President must be clearly and unequivocally committed to changing our country's stand on torture, and that is exactly what I pledge to do. Strong leaders are not afraid to be held accountable, nor are they afraid to hold others accountable for acts that we all know are wrong.

As soon I am inaugurated, I will order investigations to find out who is responsible for torture -- those who allowed it, those who sanctioned it, and those who carried it out. We can and will find out who is responsible.

And, once we've completed those investigations -- and if we find cause for prosecution -- I will insist on criminal prosecutions of anyone we find responsible for torture in this current administration. No one will be given a pass. NO ONE is above the law.

John Early, seen in the video below, is a testament to why we must hold people accountable and why we must restore our anti-torture commitment. John was captured in Sudan in 1996 - a dangerous time in a dangerous place. I went to Sudan to help bring John home.

UPDATE: Due to a question of image rights, the video is currently not available for viewing.

When you see this video, you understand the terror that John and his family felt when he was a prisoner. This has real-world implications that affect us all.

As you read this, hundreds of thousands of American men and women are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Every day that they stay, they remain in harm's way in a hostile land. And every day that we don't hold people accountable for allowing torture in our name, we place them in ever greater danger. For if we no longer abide by international law, how can we expect or demand that someone else follow it?

America's reputation, liberties, and moral leadership continue to be assaulted by Vice President Cheney and President Bush. If this Congress again fails to get to the bottom of these outrages, I will begin serious investigations as President on January 20th, 2009. We can and must find out who is responsible. If necessary, there will be prosecutions. No one is above the law. No one.

This post is the second in a series on seven by Governor Bill Richardson leading up to the January Caucuses and Primaries. The first post in the series was: Iraq: The Elephant In The Room.