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HRW calls for prosecution of US officials complicit in torture

Group slams CIA for ‘egregious disregard’ of law, wants compensation for victims, criminal charges filed against agency

Human Rights Watch called on the U.S. government to hold to account those who created, authorized, implemented or conspired to commit the torture inflicted by the CIA after the 9/11 attacks, in a 153-page report released Tuesday, “No More Excuses: A Roadmap to Justice for CIA Torture.”

The rights organization said there is a need for an independent and impartial investigation to look into the torture and other war crimes and called for prosecution when warranted — declaring that not doing so would violate U.S. obligations under international law. 

“Without criminal investigations, which would remove torture as a policy option, [President Barack] Obama’s legacy will forever be poisoned,” said Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a press release.

New evidence of the CIA prison abuse came to light when the Senate Intelligence Committee released a partially redacted summary of its torture findings on Dec. 9, 2014. (The U.S. military adopted many of the spy agency’s unlawful interrogation practices.)

The report showed that in disregard of domestic and international law, the U.S. used torture for no benefit, including rectal “feeding” and nearly drowning immobilized captives, including at secret black sites around the world.

HRW called for the full Senate report to be declassified and for former victims to be allowed to give their accounts, which were lacking in the report and a previous Justice Department investigation of interrogations.

The organization called for many individuals to be investigated, including former President George W. Bush. While the Senate summary on torture said he was not briefed about the abuse until April 2006, HRW pointed out that Bush wrote that he spoke to CIA Director George Tenet in 2002 and signed off on torture tactics.

“I knew that an interrogation program this sensitive and controversial would one day become public,” Bush wrote in his memoir, “Decision Points.” But, he said, he had to “protect the country” and therefore “approved the use of the interrogation techniques,” such as waterboarding.

HRW described former Vice President Dick Cheney as a “principal political force” pushing to justify torture, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George Tenet are also among those who should be scrutinized, according to the group. In addition, CIA contractors James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen need to be investigated, the HRW report said; it is believed they developed and help implement the torture program.

‘Legal fig leaf’

Those who said they relied on legal opinions stating that the treatment of prisoners was not torture are still culpable, according to HRW.

CIA efforts to “obtain what would be pre-emptive immunity from prosecution for using torture” and the strained legal reasoning propping up the torture memos “suggests that those involved knew they were creating ‘authorization’ as a cover for what would otherwise almost certainly be deemed illegal acts,” the report stated.

Additionally, the abuse of prisoners went beyond the illegal techniques that were authorized — for example, the multiple near-drownings of Zain Abidin Mohammed Husain Abu Zubaydah, which made him “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth,” according to the HRW report.

The report examined the criminal charges — in addition to torture — that could be applied. For example, irrespective of the more serious crimes of rendition and sodomy, the wrongfully detained prisoner Khaled el-Masri was dragged from a car, slammed into interior walls, kicked and beaten by the CIA. Those who abused Masri, a German citizen, could be charged with assault.

The charge of murder could apply to the killers of Gul Rahman, who died in CIA custody, likely of hypothermia, or to those who killed Manadel al-Jamadi, who died in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison after he was beaten and chained to a window 5 feet above the ground during a CIA-led interrogation.

Federal law criminalizes various degrees of sexual abuse, HRW noted — some inmates, including Majid Khan, were “fed” pureed food via anal infusions.

Searching for redress

In addition to prosecuting the offenders, HRW called for the victims to be compensated as required by the Convention Against Torture, which was ratified by the U.S.

Former prisoners report being haunted by their torture, and they suffer from a wide array of mental health and physical conditions.

Mustafa al-Hawsawi, a Guantánamo detainee accused of plotting and financing the 9/11 attacks, has been diagnosed with an anal fissure and symptomatic rectal prolapse.

Other countries that conspired with the U.S. in its global torture program have to some degree made amends with CIA victims. The HRW report cited the Swedish government’s apology for its complicity with the CIA. The Swedes paid $500,000 to two men rendered to Egypt. And the Canadian government paid millions of dollars to Maher Arar, who was rendered unlawfully to Syria by the CIA. 


Among the report’s recommendations is an apology from Obama and full accounting of wrongdoing. “Obama is essentially leaving the door open for some future unscrupulous president to re-embark on the torture policies of the Bush administration,” said Roth in a press video.

Several of Obama’s would-be successors from the GOP have indicated they approve of torture — sometimes showing their ignorance of what constitutes torture.

Republican front-runner Donald Trump said he would “absolutely bring back” waterboarding, as would Jeb Bush, who claimed the technique was not torture.‪‪‪ 

“Only by sending that clear message of criminality can Obama ensure that this ugly chapter of American history is not replicated in the future. When inevitably there will be another future security threat to the United States,” Roth said.

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