By Sean Sullivan
SOUTH HADLEY--Christopher Pyle does not use the words "war criminal" lightly.
The Mount Holyoke College professor and Massachusetts American Civil Liberties Union board member attended a weekend conference about prosecuting "high level perpetrators" in the Bush administration for alleged crimes committed domestically and abroad as part of the war in Iraq and war on terror.
The program was part of the Justice Robert H. Jackson Conference at the Massachusetts School of Law in Andover. It was held Saturday and Sunday [September 13 and 14].
"This conference is really about accountability," said Pyle. "This is the first thoroughgoing criminal administration in history."
Pyle said he believes it is imperative to the diplomatic future of the United States to take action against "high level perpetrators"--especially those who engaged in legally ambiguous and, Pyle said, downright illegal forms of torture.
"The United States cannot maintain its moral standing in the world or restore rule of law in this country until it begins to follow its own laws," he said. "We've also got to pass some new laws so that this will never happen again."
Efforts to obtain a White House reaction to Pyle's statement were unsuccessful Monday. A person in the White House media affairs office said a staff member was working on a response, but it did not come before deadline.
Pyle took part in a panel discussion entitled, "The Crimes of Torture and Degrading and Abusive Conduct, And Perpetrators and Punishment."
His speech, "What Should Be Done," drew heavily from his forthcoming book, Getting Away With Torture, a study of "war crimes" committed by the Bush administration.
Pyle's remarks explored ways to bring the "high level perpetrators" to justice, and were critical of proposed "truth commissions," independent commissions with subpoena power, to be used in lieu of Congressional hearings or prosecutions.
He also advocated repealing amnesty provisions of the Military Commissions Act and for opening the possibility of civil suits being brought against the federal government by victims of illegal torture.
Pyle's work with civil liberties first drew attention in 1970, when he released an article disclosing the U.S. military's surveillance of civilian political activity.
His work on the subject won him the Hillman award for investigative journalism in 1970 and the Polk award for investigative journalism in 1971. In 1986, he wrote a book on the subject, Military Surveillance of Civilian Politics.
But Pyle said little of what he's seen has matched what the Bush administration has done.
"The torture and cruelty and degradation of suspected terrorists was a conscious and deliberate policy by the highest officials in the country," he said. "It wasn't the work of a few bad apples on the night shift at Abu Ghraib."
The Justice H. Jackson Conference is named after Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, who served as chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials.