The U.S. searches for war criminals

The U.S. increases its efforts to apprehend war criminals. . . . provided they're not American

Published October 1, 2010 10:02AM (EDT)

(updated below - Update II)

It doesn't happen often, but sometimes, something you read is so magnificent on its own that there is nothing to say about it.  This USA Today article, proudly touting the increased efforts of the U.S. Government to track down and punish war criminals (provided, of course, that they're not American), is one such example:

War criminals find it's harder to hide from past, U.S. agents

When federal agents finally caught up with Gilberto Jordan, he had all the trappings of a solid American life: a house in a tidy South Florida neighborhood, steady work as a chef and a spotless record as a law-abiding citizen since emigrating from Guatemala in the early 1990s.

Nothing suggested he was hiding from a horrific past that the agents attributed to him when they knocked on his door that day in May. He still used the same name that appeared on a decade-old order for his arrest on murder charges in his native country. . . .

The prosecution of Jordan, 54, underscores a new push by federal law enforcement agencies to hunt down war criminals and human rights abusers who have found refuge in the United States.

The agents that tracked him are from a special center that Immigration and Customs created last year to bolster its work on such cases.

When Jordan pleaded guilty this summer to participating in the [1982] Dos Erres massacre, it marked the first conviction won by a new, 50-person Justice Department office set up to prosecute them.

The targets range from African despots and military officers from the former Yugoslavia to lesser-known figures, such as Jordan. It's unclear how many are out there, but officials at Justice's Human Rights and Special Prosecutions office say they're tracking multiple suspects. Armed with new investigative tools, more legal powers and a beefed-up congressional mandate, they're charging culprits at an unprecedented rate.

Convicted offenders usually are deported, sometimes after a U.S. prison stint. Many end up being turned over to authorities in countries where they face charges for war crimes or human rights abuses.

"I don't think there's any question that we're going to have a greater number of these cases and that these cases are going to reach (suspects from) more parts of the world," says Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, a child of Holocaust survivors who has pushed the more aggressive efforts to hold war criminals accountable. "It's something we have to do. We owe it to our citizens and we owe it to the world."

Congress passed the laws amid a broader international push after the Cold War to hold war criminals and human rights abusers accountable, says Eli Rosenbaum, who ran the Office of Special Investigations and now is director of strategy and policy in the new Human Rights and Special Prosecutions unit.

"Interest burgeoned all over the world in bringing these people to justice," Rosenbaum says. Among U.S. policymakers, "there was bipartisan support for doing this, and Congress gave us a lot of new tools."

Now, it's going full steam.

"We want to send a message to would-be human rights violators of the future," Rosenbaum says. "Their odds of getting away with it are shrinking rapidly."

I love that Lanny Breuer quote so much that I just need to repeat it:  "It's something we have to do. We owe it to our citizens and we owe it to the world."  And that Rosenbaum quote seems grounded in the premise that -- imagine this -- war crimes become more likely in the future, become virtually inevitable, if "would-be human rights violators" know they can "get away with it."  This, from a country that actually placed as a Judge on its second-highest federal court level one of the prime legal architects of its worldwide torture regime, and which blithely leaves him there even as more evidence emerges of the central role he played in enabling it, and whose top political leader formally adopts a position of full immunity for its own war criminals.  My duties as a citizen compel me to help this new, muscular DOJ War Crimes unit by pointing to one place where they haven't yet looked (update:  many vigilant citizens noted that this particular, un-apprehened war criminal is on the move, and is now located here).


UPDATE:  The website for this special DOJ unit searching for war criminals within the U.S. encourages people to notify them if the identity or whereabouts of any un-apprehended war criminals or human rights violators are known; I would hope that any of you with such information will discharge your solemn duties as citizens and call and/or email them (h/t netsharc):

How to Report a Human Rights Violator

The Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section actively seeks out information that may assist the U.S. Government in identifying human rights violators who may have entered the United States.

If you know of anyone in the United States or of any U.S. citizen anywhere in the world who may have been involved in perpetrating human rights violations abroad, please contact HRSP either by email at or by postal mail at:

Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section (Tips), Criminal Division United States Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20530-0001

You do not have to identify yourself when providing information. Please provide as much detail as possible, such as:

* the suspect's name, place and date of birth,

* physical description, and current location;

* the suspect's alleged human rights violations including the locations and dates of those activities;

* how you learned of the suspect’s alleged activities and when and where you saw the suspect.

We are unable to reply to every submission; however, your information will be reviewed promptly by HRSP.

Information on non-U.S. citizen suspects living in the United States may be provided to Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the Department of Homeland Security, at 1-866-347-2423 (a toll-free call).

As the DOJ's Lanny Breuer said:  "It's something we have to do. We owe it to our citizens and we owe it to the world."


UPDATE II:  Speaking of un-apprehended war criminals, Blackwater has just received a huge, new contract from the State Department.  Spencer Ackerman at Wired has the exclusive story.  I wonder if that will help the administration's ostensible efforts to improve how the U.S. is perceived in the Muslim world.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

MORE FROM Glenn Greenwald

Related Topics ------------------------------------------