Friday, May 29, 2009

Senate Armed Services Committee Report Findings Confirm the Necessity for Criminal Investigations Into Detainee Abuse and Torture

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s report on the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody – the product of a 2-year-long bipartisan inquiry – heightens the need for a criminal investigation into abuse and torture authorized by officials of the previous administration.

The extensive report [pdf], numbering over 260 pages, found not only that interrogation techniques used on detainees were designed with a purpose of eliciting false confessions, but also that top-level government officials were involved from the early stages and throughout the development of the interrogation program.

The indefinite detention of any person solely for the purpose of interrogating him is prohibited under the laws of war and under U.S. law. The United States government recognized this longstanding legal principle in the 2004 Supreme Court case Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, in which the Court recognized that “indefinite detention for the purpose of interrogation is not authorized.” United Nations human rights officials [pdf] and the International Committee of the Red Cross have been equally clear in addressing U.S. policy, stating that the indefinite detention of prisoners of war or civilian internees solely for purposes of interrogating them contravenes the provisions of the Geneva Conventions.

The SASC report also details the fact that senior-level government officials were involved in the design, development and implementation of such practices. According to a former senior U.S. intelligence official, former Vice President Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were, “for most of 2002 and into 2003 . . . demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq.”

Former U.S Army psychiatrist Maj. Charles Burney, who was deployed to Guantanamo Bay in mid-2002, confirms these statements in the SASC report: “while we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between AI Qaeda and Iraq and we were not being successful in establishing a link between AI Qaeda and Iraq. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish this link . . . there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.” The former administration’s fixation on eliciting false confessions to establish such a link is demonstrated by the CIA’s interrogation of two detainees a combined total of 266 times, from 2002-2003.

That high-level officials demanded the use of harsher interrogation techniques in order to elicit a confession, with no regard for veracity, to establish a link between al Qaida and Iraq demonstrates their complicity in acts that violate U.S. and international law. As the Senate Armed Services Committee concluded in its report:

The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.

In addition to compromising our moral authority, these acts violate our laws. As Senator Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in his remarks announcing the release of the report, “senior officials sought out information on, were aware of training in, and authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques. Those senior officials bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses.”

Attorney General Eric Holder must appoint an independent counsel to investigate those officials responsible for directing, authorizing, or otherwise facilitating these practices, and prosecuting those found to have violated the law. He must do so in order to ensure that the American people have a full understanding of the role that the U.S. government played in these damaging human rights violations, to ensure that those individuals victimized by such abuse receive justice and full disclosure of the reasons for their suffering, and to ensure that those responsible for such grievous violations of basic human rights norms are held to account.