Human Rights Watch, a major human rights group in the US, has issued a report detailing all the abuses committed by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and others and calling for them to be prosecuted.
It is now well established that following the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operated a global, state-sanctioned program in which it abducted scores of people throughout the world, held them in secret detention—sometimes for years—or “rendered” them to various countries, and tortured or otherwise ill-treated them. While the program officially ended in 2009, the cover-up of these crimes appears to be ongoing.
Many detainees were held by the CIA in pitch-dark windowless cells, chained to walls, naked or diapered, for weeks or months at a time. The CIA forced them into painful stress positions that made it impossible for them to lie down or sleep for days, to the point where many hallucinated or begged to be killed to end their misery. It used “waterboarding” and similar techniques to cause near suffocation or drowning, crammed detainees naked into tiny boxes, and prevented them from bathing, using toilets, or cutting their hair or nails for months. “We looked like monsters,” one detainee said of his appearance while in CIA custody.
Much new information about detention and interrogation in the CIA program became public with the release in redacted form of the 499-page summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report in December 2014 (“Senate Summary”). The Senate Summary reported that the CIA subjected at least five detainees to “rectal feeding,” described in one case as infusing the pureed contents of a lunch tray into the detainee’s rectum via a medical tube, done “without evidence of medical necessity.” The Senate Summary also found that during a waterboarding session, one detainee became “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.” The CIA forced some detainees to stand for days on end without sleep while they had broken bones in their legs and feet, even though CIA personnel knew this would cause them long-term physical injury. A CIA cable described one detainee as “clearly a broken man” and “on the verge of complete breakdown.”
The US government has not adequately accounted for these abuses. It has an obligation under international law to prosecute torture where warranted and provide redress to victims, but it has done neither. No one with real responsibility for these crimes has been held accountable and the government has actively thwarted attempts on the part of victims to obtain redress and compensation in US courts.
The report names all the people who were complicit in creating the conditions for these abuses to occur.
US officials who created, authorized, and implemented the CIA program should be among those investigated for conspiracy to torture as well as other crimes. They include: Acting CIA General Counsel John Rizzo, Assistant Attorney General for Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) Jay Bybee, OLC Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, an individual identified as “CTC Legal” in the Senate Summary, CIA Director George Tenet, National Security Legal Advisor John Bellinger, Attorney General John Ashcroft, White House Counsel Legal Advisor Alberto Gonzales, Counsel to the Vice President David Addington, Deputy White House Counsel Timothy Flanigan, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Department General Counsel William Haynes II, Vice President Dick Cheney, and President George W. Bush. In addition, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, CIA psychologist contractors who devised the program, proposed it to the CIA, and helped carry it out, should also be investigated for their role in the initial conspiracy.
The Obama administration, far from prosecuting these people, has disgraced itself by actually granting them effective immunity with Obama himself shamefully saying that ‘we need to look forward, not backwards’, something that would be ridiculed if (say) Vladimir Putin or Basher Assad said it to protect their own abusers.
The report emphasizes that prosecuting these crimes is required under law.
The failure to credibly investigate and prosecute torture committed in any territory under US jurisdiction violates US obligations under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and other treaties to which the US is a party. Other countries and entities should open their own investigations into CIA torture and should exercise universal jurisdiction, where applicable, over US nationals and others implicated in torture or other abuses. Additionally, countries that were complicit or otherwise unlawfully assisted the CIA program should also conduct investigations into the alleged illegal conduct of their own nationals.
Besides violating international law, the US government’s inaction in the face of clear evidence of torture sends a message to future US policymakers and officials that they too can commit torture and other ill-treatment and not fear being held accountable. Several presidential candidates for the 2016 elections have already indicated they would consider using so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” if they were to be elected.
But of course, international law is only invoked when it can be used against other countries. Meanwhile, our media, rather than treating these people as the pariahs they are, bring them on as ‘experts’ and treat them respectfully.