Guantánamo

Human rights groups ask attorney general to order new CIA torture probe

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch June 22, 2015 at meeting of the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch June 22, 2015 at meeting of the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in Washington, D.C. GETTY IMAGES

Three leading human rights groups argued Tuesday that the so-called Senate Torture Report provided fresh fodder of “serious federal crimes, including torture, homicide, conspiracy and sexual assault” in a letter asking U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to appoint a special prosecutor to re-investigate the CIA’s treatment of captives in its secret overseas prison network.

The letter by the American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony Romero, Amnesty International’s Salil Shetty and Human Rights Watch’s Kenneth Roth noted that an earlier Department of Justice investigation apparently never interviewed Guantánamo detainees.

In 2009, Lynch’s predecessor, Eric Holder, authorized then special prosecutor John Durham to investigate some aspects of the defunct program. It resulted in no criminal charges. But the letter writers argue that it was likely too limited in scope and that Durham was likely denied details that have since surfaced.

For example, U.S. intelligence officials recently declassified descriptions of alleged lurid treatment — including a quasi-medical technique called rectal refeeding — that a man raised in suburban Baltimore, Majid Khan, provided to his attorneys in 2007 soon after he got to the prison in southeast Cuba from years of CIA custody.

One key issue is whether the agents acted within the scope of their legal authority or exceeded it in their use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, rectal rehydration and sleep deprivation. The Senate Report cites examples of agents conducting some interrogations before they got specific authority.

At the Justice Department, spokesman Marc Raimondi said department investigators already “reviewed the Senate Committee’s full report and did not find any new information that they had not previously considered in reaching their determination. This inquiry was extraordinarily thorough and we stand by our previously announced decision not to initiate criminal charges.”

He also said that Durham’s probe “generated two criminal investigations, but the Department of Justice ultimately declined those cases for prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain convictions beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The letter writers, two American attorneys and an Indian economist, say there’s a particular urgency now for a fresh probe in part because architects of the program, started by President George W. Bush and shut down by President Barack Obama, have offered a spirited public defense of its performance and permissibility in the aftermath of the release of a public portion of the sweeping study by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

“Many of the individuals who authorized the conduct documented in the Senate torture report are publicly defending the necessity, effectiveness and legality of that conduct,” they write in the four-page letter released Tuesday morning.

Roth, executive director at Human Rights Watch, said by email that a fresh investigation would inevitably require access to former CIA captives at Guantánamo.

About one-fourth of the U.S. military’s 116 captives currently held in Cuba were at one time held in a CIA black site, according to the Senate study, which also reported that the agency dismantled a secret site at the U.S. Navy base in 2004 and spirited some captives away to make sure they didn’t see lawyers.

“Any real investigation would talk not only to government officials and alleged perpetrators,” Roth said, “but also to the victims themselves wherever they are, and especially those still in U.S. custody in Guantánamo, since they are the easiest to reach.”

He called the probe essential, saying “Obama’s prohibition of torture is only as secure as his presidency, which is coming to an end soon. The only way to ensure that some future president doesn’t consider torture a policy option in the face of some new security threat is to prosecute those who authorized torture under Bush.”

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From the letter:

“The United States has an obligation under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to effectively, independently, and impartially investigate all cases of unlawful killing, torture or other ill treatment, arbitrary detention or enforced disappearance; and to appropriately prosecute and sanction the perpetrators, including persons in positions of command.”

▪ Anthony Romero, American Civil Liberties Union; Salil Shetty, Amnesty International; Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch.

Justice Department response:

In 2009, the Attorney General directed a preliminary review of the treatment of certain individuals alleged to have been mistreated while in U.S. Government custody subsequent to the 9/11 attacks. That review generated two criminal investigations, but the Department of Justice ultimately declined those cases for prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain convictions beyond a reasonable doubt. Those investigators have also reviewed the Senate Committee’s full report and did not find any new information that they had not previously considered in reaching their determination. This inquiry was extraordinarily thorough and we stand by our previously announced decision not to initiate criminal charges.

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