Facing justice: UN, HRW, Amnesty call for prosecuting US officials for torture

AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards
The UN and prominent human rights groups have demanded justice for CIA torture victims, urging to prosecute the responsible US officials listed in the Senate’s report. The Justice Department says it will not pursue charges, even after seeing the report.

READ MORE: Senate accuses CIA of torturing prisoners, overstepping legal boundaries

The calls for justice come after the US Senate Intelligence Committee released its long-awaited congressional report on Tuesday, which details the CIA’s use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques on prisoners in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

"As a matter of international law, the US is legally obliged to bring those responsible to justice," the UN's special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, Ben Emmerson, said in a statement issued in Geneva. "The US Attorney General is under a legal duty to bring criminal charges against those responsible.”

"It is now time to take action. The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today's report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes."

Reuters/Larry Downing

Emmerson added that the released report confirmes what the international community has suspected for a long time.

“There was a clear policy orchestrated at a high level within the [George W.] Bush administration, which allowed to commit systematic crimes and gross violations of international human rights law," the UN official said.

Amnesty International also called for accountability, stressing that the report shows that the CIA was committing illegal acts “from day one.”

The CIA program "gave the green light to commit the crimes under international law of torture and enforced disappearance – with impunity. It’s time for accountability, including a full investigation, prosecutions and remedy for victims," the executive director of Amnesty’s US branch, Steven Hawkins, said.

“Torture is a crime and those responsible for crimes must be brought to justice,” he added.

The report "shows the repeated claims that harsh measures were needed to protect Americans are fiction," Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth said, calling to prosecute those responsible.

“Unless this important truth-telling process leads to prosecution of the officials responsible, torture will remain a 'policy option' for future presidents,” Roth stressed.

Protestors perform a simulation of the waterboarding torture technique on a man dressed as a prisoner during a protest. (Reuters/Jim Young)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is also demanding justice.

"The government officials who authorized illegal activity need to be held accountable," ACLU executive director Anthony Romero said. "It is impossible to read it without feeling immense outrage that our government engaged in these terrible crimes."

The ACLU has urged US President Barack Obama to appoint a special prosecutor to look into the “role played by the senior officials most responsible for it and by those who tried to cover up crimes...if there is sufficient evidence of criminal conduct, the offenders should be prosecuted.”

The report released to the public consists of only a 524-page summary out of the full 6,000-page document. It also has most of the details blacked out, such as the names of those involved.

Rejection from DOJ

Despite strong outrage, the Department of Justice (DOJ) says it will not be pursuing charges against those involved in the interrogations, adding that the report does not yield enough evidence to lead to a conviction.

The DOJ attempted to carry out two investigations into the abuse of detainees in 2009, but concluded that the evidence was insufficient.

The Department said it looked through the report and “did not find any new information that they had not previously considered in reaching their determination,” AFP reported.

Reuters/Bob Strong

The published executive summary contains the Committee’s conclusions concerning the post-9/11 tactics deployed by the CIA under the administration of US President George W. Bush, in an attempt to gain intelligence from suspected terrorists. These included sleep deprivation and the simulated-drowning practice known as waterboarding.

The report does not discuss the moral grounds of torture – in fact, it doesn't even include the 't-word.' Instead, it examines what the interrogation techniques actually accomplished.

Following an analysis on a case-by-case basis, the report concludes that such torture produced intelligence of little or no value.

“CIA officers regularly called into question whether the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques were effective, assessing that the use of the techniques failed to elicit detainee cooperation or produce accurate intelligence,” the reports states.

Moreover, the CIA paid $81 million to two psychologists for their assessment of the interrogations. Identified by their pseudonyms in the report – Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen – they continuously pushed for tougher interrogations.

The pair were previously involved in running a Cold War-era program that taught what it would be like to be captured by the enemy by using methods that were never meant to be applied in American interrogations and were known to produce false confessions, The New York Times reported.

The report reveals that Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen ran the CIA program from 2005 until its closure in 2009.