Thursday, August 13, 2009

Independent Prosecutor MUST be Given Broad Mandate to Investigate Senior Officials Who Authorized Detainee Abuse

As we reported last week, Attorney General Eric Holder is leaning towards appointing an independent prosecutor to investigate detainee abuse committed during the Bush administration. Sources close to Holder recently said that the scope of any independent investigation is likely to be limited, focusing only on CIA interrogators whose actions exceeded the broad rules set by the former administration.

In response to this news, Human Rights USA, along with a number of other human and civil rights groups, have called for the Attorney General to broaden the scope of the investigation to include senior government officials responsible for directing, approving, or authorizing the use of such techniques.

Since 2004, Human Rights
USA has been calling for the appointment of an independent prosecutor to investigate senior officials' involvement in detainee abuse and the extraordinary rendition program.

Read our full Press Release below (also available here).

Press Release

August 13, 2009

Human Rights USA Calls for Appointment of Independent Prosecutor to Investigate Full Scope of Crimes Committed by Former Administration Officials

Sources close to the Attorney General claim that he is close to making a decision on the appointment of an independent prosecutor. But, according to these sources, rather than seek an investigation into the full range of crimes committed by former administration officials, Holder is only considering cases in which CIA interrogators exceeded the techniques approved by administration attorneys. That news is discouraging.

By now, it is apparent that lawyers for the Bush administration wrote legal memoranda approving techniques that clearly violate the Geneva Conventions and U.S. laws. To investigate only the CIA interrogators who exceeded the broad rules set by the administration is to repeat the faulty investigations conducted by the former administration.

The Bush administration was widely criticized for blaming widespread detainee abuse on a handful of “bad apples.” Despite the fact that more than 600 civilian and military personnel have been implicated in detainee abuse, investigations have yielded few prosecutions: less than 50 people have been held to account, all of them low-ranking military or civilian personnel. Even then, many of the punishments meted out have been mild relative to the crimes committed.

An investigation into crimes committed by low-level CIA interrogators is an attempt to again blame detainee abuse on just a few “bad apples.” This kind of limited investigation does not reach the heart of the problem: the administration authorized tactics that violated accepted standards of domestic and international law.

The Attorney General must appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate those who authorized and approved these abuses, not only those who committed them.

To ensure that an investigation is not hampered by artificial limitations imposed for political reasons, the independent prosecutor must be given: a broad mandate to conduct an investigation into the origins of the detainee abuse program; wide latitude to pursue any prosecutions deemed necessary as a result of the investigation; freedom to operate outside the day-to-day control of the Justice Department; sufficient funding to carry out the mandate; and ample time, with possibility for extension, to conduct the investigation.

Attorney General Holder must not allow former administration officials to enjoy impunity for their crimes. To do so would be to condone serious transgressions of some of the most basic and fundamental human rights protections our laws afford. Investigating and prosecuting these abuses affords justice to the victims and their families, deter future administrations from committing these crimes, and send a message to the rest of the world that America is a country of laws. In short, Attorney General Eric Holder must put “justice” back in the Justice Department.

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