|Former US President George W. Bush|
The United States-based Human Rights Watch said it believes there is sufficient basis for the US government to order a “broad criminal investigation” into alleged crimes committed in connection with the torture and ill-treatment of detainees, the CIA secret detention program, and the rendition of detainees to torture.
Such an investigation, it said would necessarily focus on alleged criminal conduct by former President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and CIA Director George Tenet.
In a report “Getting Away With Torture” published in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi on July 12, Human Rights Watch said it builds on their prior work by summarizing information that has since been made public about the role played by US government officials most responsible for setting interrogation and detention policies following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, and analyzes them under US and international law.
In 2005, Human Rights Watch presented substantial evidence warranting criminal investigations of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director George Tenet, as well as Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, formerly the top US commander in Iraq, and Gen. Geoffrey Miller, former commander of the US military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
According to the Report, George Tenet asked if he had permission to use enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed… “Damn right,” George W. Bush said in 2010.
Should former US President George W. Bush be investigated for authorizing “waterboarding” and other abuses against detainees that the United States and scores of other countries have long recognized as torture? Should high-ranking US officials who authorized enforced disappearances of detainees and the transfer of others to countries where they were likely to be tortured be held accountable for their actions?
“There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account,” the Report quoted Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba to have said in June 2008.
|HRW calls for probe into Bush and Co for alleged criminal conduct|
Human Rights Watch adds that such an investigation should also include examination of the roles played by National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and Attorney General John Ashcroft, as well as the lawyers who crafted the legal “justifications” for torture, including Alberto Gonzales (counsel to the president and later attorney general), Jay Bybee (head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC)), John Rizzo (acting CIA general counsel), David Addington (counsel to the vice president), William J. Haynes II (Department of Defense general counsel), and John Yoo (deputy assistant attorney general in the OLC).
However, Human Rights Watch laments that much important information remains secret, as many internal government documents on detention and interrogation policies and practices are still classified, and unavailable to the public.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has secured the release of thousands of documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), among the dozens of key documents still withheld are the presidential directive of September 2001 authorizing CIA "black sites" or secret prisons as well as CIA inspector general records. Moreover, many documents that have ostensibly been released, including the CIA inspector general’s report and Department of Justice and Senate committee reports, contain heavily redacted sections that obscure key events and decisions.
Human Rights Watch believes that many of these documents may contain incriminating information, strengthening the cases for criminal investigation detailed in this report. Nonetheless, it also believes there is enough strong evidence from the information made public over the past five years to not only suggest these officials authorized and oversaw widespread and serious violations of US and international law, but that they failed to act to stop mistreatment, or punish those responsible after they became aware of serious abuses.
While Bush administration officials have claimed that detention and interrogation operations were only authorized after extensive discussion and legal review by Department of Justice attorneys, Human Rights Watch said there is now substantial evidence that civilian leaders requested that politically appointed government lawyers create legal justifications to support abusive interrogation techniques, in the face of opposition from career legal officers.
The Report suggested that thorough, impartial, and genuinely independent investigation is needed into the programmes of illegal detention, coerced interrogation, and rendition to torture, and the role of top government officials. “Those who authorized, ordered, and oversaw torture and other serious violations of international law, as well as those implicated as a matter of command responsibility, should be investigated and prosecuted if evidence warrants.”
“Taking such action and addressing the issues raised in this report is crucial to the US’s global standing, and needs to be undertaken if the United States hopes to wipe away the stain of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and reaffirm the primacy of the rule of law,” Human Rights Watch said.
However, the Institution said it expresses no opinion about the ultimate guilt or innocence of any officials under US law, nor does it purport to offer a comprehensive account of the possible culpability of these officials or a legal brief. Rather it presents two main sections: one providing a narrative summarizing Bush administration policies and practices on detention and interrogation, and another detailing the case for individual criminal responsibility of several key administration officials.
The road to the violations detailed here began within days of the September 11, 2001 attacks by al Qaeda on New York and Washington, DC, when the Bush administration began crafting a new set of policies, procedures, and practices for detainees captured in military and counterterrorism operations outside the United States.
The US-based Rights body said: “Many of these violated the laws of war, international human rights law, and US federal criminal law. Moreover, the coercive methods that senior US officials approved include tactics that the US has repeatedly condemned as torture or ill-treatment when practiced by others.”
For example, the Bush administration authorized coercive interrogation practices by the CIA and the military that amounted to torture, and instituted an illegal secret CIA detention programme in which detainees were held in undisclosed locations without notifying their families, allowing access to the International Committee of the Red Cross, or providing for oversight of their treatment.
It adds that detainees were also unlawfully rendered (transferred) to countries such as Syria, Egypt, and Jordan, where they were likely to be tortured. Indeed, many were, including Canadian national Maher Arar who described repeated beatings with cables and electrical cords during the 10 months he was held in Syria, where the US sent him in 2002. Evidence suggests that torture in such cases was not a regrettable consequence of rendition; it may have been the purpose.
Human Rights Watch blames politically appointed administration lawyers who drafted legal memoranda that sought to provide legal cover for administration policies on detention and interrogation.
As a direct result of Bush administration decisions, it said detainees in US custody were beaten, thrown into walls, forced into small boxes, and waterboarded - subjected to mock executions in which they endured the sensation of drowning. Two alleged senior al Qaeda prisoners, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah, were waterboarded 183 and 83 times respectively.
Detainees in US-run facilities in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay endured prolonged mistreatment, sometimes for weeks and even months. This included painful “stress” positions; prolonged nudity; sleep, food, and water deprivation; exposure to extreme cold or heat; and total darkness with loud music blaring for weeks at a time.
Other abuses in Iraq included beatings, near suffocation, sexual abuse, and mock executions. At Guantanamo Bay, some detainees were forced to sit in their own excrement, and some were sexually humiliated by female interrogators.
In Afghanistan, prisoners were chained to walls and shackled in a manner that made it impossible to lie down or sleep, with restraints that caused their hands and wrists to swell up or bruise.
According to Human Rights Watch, these abuses across several continents did not result from the acts of individual soldiers or intelligence agents who broke the rules: they resulted from decisions of senior US leaders to bend, ignore, or cast rules aside.
Furthermore, as explained in this report, it is now known that Bush administration officials developed and expanded their initial decisions and authorizations on detainee operations even in the face of internal and external dissent, including warnings that many of their actions violated international and domestic law.
And when illegal interrogation techniques on detainees spread broadly beyond what had been explicitly authorized, these officials turned a blind eye, making no effort to stop the practices, the Report, Getting Away with Torture said.
- Author: Modou S. Joof, news editor – The Voice Newspaper