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Human Rights Groups Urge Criminal Investigation Into CIA Torture

By Jonathan S. Landay, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama should appoint a special prosecutor to determine if former Bush administration and CIA officials broke the law by having suspected terrorists abducted and tortured in secret prisons by waterboarding and other brutal interrogation methods, two leading human rights groups said Monday.

The call by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union was the second proposal for a special investigation issued from a human rights organization since the publication earlier this month of a blistering Senate Intelligence Committee report into the CIA interrogation program that ran from 2002 until 2007.

“We believe the failure to conduct a comprehensive criminal investigation would contribute to the notion that torture remains a permissible policy option for future administrations; undermine the ability of the United States to advocate for human rights abroad, and compromise Americans’ faith in rule of law at home,” Human Rights Watch and the ACLU wrote in a joint letter to Obama.

The letter follows an analysis of the Senate report issued last week by Physicians for Human Rights, which urged Obama to appoint a special commission to examine whether CIA health professionals violated international and U.S. laws prohibiting experimentation on human subjects without their consent.

It’s highly unlikely that Obama will embrace any calls for such investigations. The White House repeatedly has pointed out since the release of the Senate report that a special prosecutor who spent three years looking into possible wrongdoing by the CIA closed the probe in 2011 without finding sufficient “admissible evidence.”

“The Department of Justice actually did conduct a review of the actions of CIA operatives that are mentioned in this report, that there was a career federal prosecutor who was assigned to this case and that this individual conducted an extensive inquiry, and upon looking at the facts in evidence decided not to pursue an indictment,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Dec. 10.

But the ACLU and Human Rights Watch asserted in their letter that a fresh criminal investigation is warranted by new disclosures about the CIA program in the Senate report.

Even if the former special prosecutor, John Durham, had access to the more than 6 million pages of classified CIA cables, emails and other documents reviewed by the Senate investigators, the Senate report “has now synthesized a huge volume of information into a narrative that clarifies the extent and seriousness of criminal conduct,” the groups said.

The United States, they wrote, is obliged as a signatory of international treaties banning torture to “effectively, independently, and impartially investigate all cases of unlawful killing, torture or other ill-treatment, arbitrary detention or enforced disappearance” and prosecute those found to be responsible, they wrote.

The Senate report, written by the majority Democrats, found that the CIA’s use of waterboarding, which simulates drowning, extensive sleep deprivation and other interrogation techniques failed to produce any intelligence on imminent al-Qaida attacks and that information gained from detainees was available from other sources.

It also concluded that the agency misled the White House, Congress and the public about the program’s results. CIA interrogators used methods that weren’t approved as legal by the Justice Department and submitted detainees to medically unnecessary “rectal feeding” and “rectal rehydration,” it said.

The agency admitted that mistakes were made. But the CIA, former Bush administration and agency officials and minority Republicans on the Senate committee disputed the findings, contending that the program was legal and produced intelligence that led to senior al-Qaida operatives, including Osama bin Laden, averted terrorist plots and saved American lives.

In their letter to Obama, the two groups said another reason for appointing a new special prosecutor was because there was no evidence that Durham had ever interviewed any former CIA detainees.

“The absence or paucity of victim interviews, particularly when many of the victims remain in U.S. custody, undercuts the credibility of the decision not to indict anyone for torture-related crimes,” they said.

Finally, Durham didn’t examine possible crimes by CIA officials who operated under Justice Department-issued legal guidelines on interrogation, the groups said. The Senate report, it explained, showed that senior agency officials were aware that the interrogation methods were illegal before they ever asked for those guidelines.

“The argument of good faith reliance on (legal) counsel appears inapplicable to some of the officials who were involved in conceptualizing, ordering, and executing these crimes,” said the letter. “We believe that officials who provided legal advice meant to authorize torture should also not benefit from any presumption that they were fulfilling their responsibilities in good faith.”

The need for a new criminal investigation “is made more urgent” because former Bush administration and CIA officials “who authorized the conduct documented in the Senate torture report” have been defending the necessity, legality and effectiveness of the program in news media interviews and opinion pieces, the letter said.

In a related development, a Democratic member of the Senate Intelligence Committee condemned as “beyond the pale” a report that no punishments will be recommended by a panel appointed by CIA Director John Brennan to review the CIA’s unauthorized infiltration of the computers used by the panel’s Democratic staff to compile the report.

“The CIA’s unauthorized search of computer files and emails belonging to its congressional oversight committee was a massive breach of the separation of powers and very well may have violated federal laws,” retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), a former committee chairman, said in a statement.

The New York Times reported over the weekend that the accountability panel of three CIA officers and two agency outsiders was expected to criticize the agency over the search but wouldn’t call for disciplinary action against the CIA officers who were involved.

AFP Photo/Shane T. McCoy

Whose Values Did The Torture Program Uphold?

By Rekha Basu, Des Moines Register (TNS)

Who are we?

That’s one question begged by the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s torture of detainees after Sept. 11. There are other questions, but this may be the key one. And it is getting harder to answer.

“That’s not who we are,” President Barack Obama declared of the abusive pressure tactics used by American interrogators on detainees in foreign holding tanks, supposedly to extract information about terror plots. But some of those seem so gratuitously abhorrent, it’s a stretch to even call them interrogations. Where is the interrogation component of force-feeding people their meals rectally? How much valid information could you get on the 17th day of one long, round-the-clock interrogation? What investigatory purpose is served by leaving a prisoner naked until he dies of hypothermia?

Politicians may quibble over the semantics of the practices and the politics of the report’s release, just before Democrats lose control of the Senate. Apologists for the program, both from the Bush administration and the CIA, reject the word “torture.” Former Vice President Dick Cheney goes so far as to call the 6,300-page report “full of c–p,” even as he acknowledges no authorization was given for rectal force-feeding. Call it what you want, but when the purpose is to terrify, degrade, in some cases bring people convicted of no crime to the brink of death, and leave them emotionally and physically broken down, one can only hope those tactics would be anathema to most Americans.

Elected leaders, including Obama, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, whose committee brought out the report, and Republican Sen. John McCain, who knows torture first-hand, believe its release will show the world, as Feinstein said, “that we are in fact a just and lawful society.” McCain said Americans need to know “when the values that define our nation are intentionally disregarded by our security policies.”

Whose values did the program uphold — The CIA’s? The Bush administration’s? That’s hard to answer since the report doesn’t look at individual culpability. Cheney’s justifications aside, the CIA did not inform the administration or get approval for some measures. On the other hand, secret legal memos sent by the Bush administration set forth a covert CIA program abroad to conduct such interrogations. Officials claimed an anti-torture treaty only applied inside the U.S. And though one of Obama’s first acts in office was to ban those practices, even Obama officials reportedly considered upholding the interpretation.

So, who are we? Are there two different sets of American values to employ selectively, according to circumstances? Was the CIA satisfying itself that the ends justify the means, even though those harsh techniques were of little ultimate value in capturing Osama bin Laden? Did agents grow oblivious to the boundary lines and become dehumanized like the Abu Ghraib captors, rogue elements with enough power to abuse? Or were they opportunists like James Mitchell, the Florida psychologist who designed and implemented the program with his partner for a cool $80 million, though never schooled in the mindset or tactics of al-Qaida?

Now that this has happened, can we still claim to have those shared values in the rule of law? Can we still claim the moral authority to condemn human rights violations in Yemen or North Korea? Even though we braced for global fallout from the report, knowledge of our abhorrent interrogation practices have already contributed to terrorist recruitment efforts, even of U.S. citizens.

Americans are not unique. Like everyone, whether we do bad or good depends largely on the cues we get from our environments. Those who lack faith that the system treats everyone equally might not see a need to play by the rules. Much has been made, for instance, of the looting and rioting in the wake of a Ferguson grand jury’s failure to indict a white police officer for the fatal shooting of an unarmed young black man. Without revisiting the merits of that case or justifying the behavior, there was clearly an element of nihilism that didn’t spring from bad upbringings, as some people have claimed. It reflected a lack of belief that justice is for all. So hold the looters responsible but in the long run, let’s make sure our police forces, prosecutors and courts model the rules of fair play.

We Americans can’t change what took place in our names in secret faraway holding pens, but we can press for those responsible to be held accountable. We can vow not to let it happen again on our watch. We can use our votes and our voices to assert our common values when our leaders sometimes seem to have lost their way.

Who are we? We are the voters and the taxpayers, the office-seekers and marchers and peaceful protesters, guided by an enlightened Constitution, a belief in doing what is right and a democracy that demands our engagement.

Rekha Basu is a columnist for the Des Moines Register. Readers may send her email at

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

September 11 Detainees In Guantanamo Get Copies Of CIA Torture Report

By Richard A. Serreno, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — As defense attorneys for five alleged Sept. 11 plotters began sharing the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture with their clients in Guantanamo Bay, a U.S. military prosecutor predicted the findings will make the trial more transparent.

Army Brigadier Gen. Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor, acknowledged that last week’s release of the torture report gives the defense side the advantage of seeing their long-running complaints about torture at CIA detention sites officially documented.

Martins said it “increases the likelihood that more of the processes (in the case) will be open to the public and assures the accused will be able see and consult with defense counsel about certain information not previously available to them.”

As frustrations mount about the delays in the military tribunal system, Martins insisted the case will move forward. Although they are far from reaching a trial date, he said the prosecution team is committed “for however long this takes.”

A pre-trial hearing was scheduled to begin Monday morning to discuss allegations that the FBI secretly tried to interfere with defense lawyers by seeking confidential information about their cases. If true, the intrusion could lead to the case being thrown out or one or more of the defendants tried separately.

But late Sunday night the trial judge, Army Col. James Pohl, abruptly canceled the Monday hearing without giving any public explanation.

The five defendants at the Cuban prison were given copies of the 500-plus page report to review in their cells, getting what is apparently their first comprehensive confirmation of the harsh interrogation techniques they endured at CIA detention facilities before being transferred to Guantanamo.

The lead defendant, Khalid Shaikh Muhammed, was waterboarded 183 times, and he and his co-defendants also were subjected to other harsh techniques, such as sleep deprivation, beatings, and being chained naked in their cells.

Some of the defendants, if not all, likely will try to use their torture as a reason for leniency to spare their lives in the death penalty case, hoping to win some sympathy from a military jury.

That campaign has already begun with James Connell, the lead attorney for defendant Ammar Baluchi, who the CIA claims gave useful information after being subjected to torture.

“The CIA and its defenders are using Mr. al Baluchi as a scapegoat for its illegal and reprehensible use of torture,” Connell said. “The United States spent incredible amounts of money, energy, and American credibility, and now the CIA is pointing at Mr. al Baluchi to justify its massive torture infrastructure.”

But the lawyer added, “Mr. al Baluchi does not hold any grudges against the CIA.”

The Senate report said some of the tortured detainees, including Ramzi Binalashibh, suffered mental problems as a result of their treatment.

During court appearances in Guantanamo, Binalashibh has erupted in outbursts several times and a mental evaluation of his condition is underway.

James Harrington, the lead attorney for Binalashibh, said his client is “competent and fully capable” of understanding the gravity of the charges and assisting in his defense.

AFP Photo/Shane T. McCoy

Cheney Leads Defense Of CIA Torture Of Prisoners

By Brian Bennett, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Senior Bush administration officials Sunday slammed the Senate study on the CIA’s use of brutal interrogation tactics, and defended the techniques as necessary to get information from senior al-Qaida operatives who had stopped talking to interrogators.

“I’d do it again in a minute,” former Vice President Dick Cheney said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “It absolutely did work.”

The report released last week by the Democrat-led Senate Intelligence Committee revived a decade-old debate about whether the U.S. should use coercive interrogation techniques to get information from terrorists and if such methods produce accurate and useful information.

CIA cables written at the time show that detainees had provided key information before the harsh tactics, such as waterboarding, confinement in small spaces and beatings, had been used. The study concluded that the use of torture was not effective and did not produce actionable intelligence about an imminent attack.

Cheney called the report “a cheap-shot piece of political business,” and criticized the Senate investigation for not interviewing CIA personnel. “The report is seriously flawed,” Cheney said. “They didn’t talk to anybody who knew anything about the program. They didn’t talk to anyone who was in the program.”

The Senate staff said they reviewed the transcripts of interviews with CIA staff conducted by the CIA’s inspector general.

Later on Meet the Press, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said the Democratic staff of the committee reviewed 6 million pages of documents. “There are a mountain of contradictions,” he said.

“Facts aren’t partisan,” Wyden said, adding that the Department of Justice should review the new facts in the report and reconsider the department’s decision not to prosecute those involved in the CIA’s program.

Jose Rodriguez, who helped design the detention and interrogation program as head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, defended his decision in 2005 to destroy recordings of CIA interrogation sessions.

“I knew the tapes would leak some day,” Rodriguez said on Fox News Sunday. He destroyed the tapes out of concern for the safety of the CIA officers whose faces appeared in the footage, he said. He was afraid that if the tapes were made public, a-Qaida would “go after them and their families.”

“I was concerned for their safety,” he said.

“This is one of the most highly reviewed covert action programs in the history of the agency,” Rodriguez said. “In the end no prosecutable offenses were found — no one tortured anyone else,” Rodriguez said.

Karl Rove, who was a senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, said on Fox News Sunday that all of the interrogation techniques were “carefully designed” and approved by administration lawyers.

The Senate study details multiple instances where interrogators appeared to act outside of their legal authorities and used techniques that were not approved.

Rove denied this. He said the detainees that received “rectal rehydration” and “rectal feeding” were on hunger strikes. But medical experts have said that neither technique is a legitimate medical procedure.

When it came to the use of waterboarding, a type of simulated drowning that was used on at least three senior al-Qaida members, Rove said the style of waterboarding used by Japanese soldiers on prisoners during World War II was different from the technique used by the CIA.

Unlike the Japanese method, Rove said, when the CIA waterboarded detainees, the “feet were elevated” to prevent the lungs from filling up with water. “Very careful standards were put in place,” Rove said.

The Senate study documents a program that was poorly managed, lost track of detainees, and created an environment in which some interrogators beat detainees, chained them to walls for days at a time and locked them into coffin-like boxes. There is no record of President George W. Bush being formally briefed by CIA officials about the program until 2006, the study states.

But Cheney said Bush was well aware of the program. Cheney was in briefings nearly six days a week with Bush and the director of the CIA, George Tenet, he said. Bush “knew what we were doing, he authorized it,” Cheney said.

The Bush administration was “very careful to stop short of torture,” Cheney said.

“Torture to me,” Cheney said, “is an American citizen on his cellphone making a last call to his four young daughters shortly before he burns to death” on the top floors of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Cheney said.

Pressed on the fact that 26 of the 119 detainees in the CIA’s custody were held in error, Cheney said he’s more concerned about the U.S. releasing “bad guys” from custody. Many former detainees that have been released have returned to the battlefield. Abu Bakr Baghdadi, for example, now leads the Islamic State and was once held by the U.S. military in Iraq.

One CIA detainee mistakenly held was named Gul Rahman. Rahman froze to death while chained to the floor of a CIA “black site” in Afghanistan.

“I am more concerned with bad guys who were let out and released than a few that were innocent,” Cheney said. “I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective” to prevent a future attack, Cheney said.

CIA Director John O. Brennan said Thursday during an televised speech and press conference at CIA headquarters, that there were management failures during the program and that some of the methods used were “abhorrent.” The question of whether the specific “enhanced” interrogation techniques prodded detainees into giving up unique information is “unknowable,” Brennan said, but the CIA’s detention program as a whole was effective and helped save lives.

AFP Photo/Saul Loeb