WASHINGTON — Nearly a year after the Senate Intelligence Committee released the executive summary of its damning investigation into the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation program, a prominent human rights organization is demanding the Obama White House reckon with the country's recent past.
In a report released Tuesday morning, Human Rights Watch outlined how the Obama White House — using last year’s torture report and various media reports throughout the years — could bring criminal charges against current and former government employees who were involved in the now-defunct torture program. That program, according to the Senate report and others, shipped captured terror suspects to secret overseas prisons and subjected them to gruesome interrogation techniques such as waterboarding and rectal feeding.
“Besides violating international law, the US government’s inaction in the face of clear evidence of torture sends a message to future US policymakers and officials that they too can commit torture and other ill-treatment and not fear being held accountable,” the 153-page report reads.
The Human Rights Watch report calls for an independent inquiry — with access to the still-classified portions of the Intelligence Committee report — to re-examine the potential for criminal charges related to the CIA’s torture program. It additionally calls for the U.S. government to provide redress to victims of torture and to cooperate with several international investigations into U.S. allies who were allegedly complicit in the agency’s widespread torture operation.
Despite the gruesome details contained in the Senate report, the Obama administration has refused to pursue criminal charges against the former torturers and has fought vehemently to stifle any attempts at legal redress by former detainees.
“There seems to be an enormous amount of evidence in support for a lot of criminal charges,” said Laura Pitter, senior national security counsel for Human Rights Watch and a lead author of the group’s report. “We started working on this and really looking closely at the evidence that’s out there and doing basically what the Senate Intelligence Committee report didn’t do, which is analyze the legality of the conduct.”
The Obama administration, for its part, has routinely cited a 2012 Justice Department investigation led by U.S. attorney into the torture allegations as evidence that it did examine the potential for criminal charges related to the agency’s Bush-era operation. That investigation was closed in 2012 without charges.
However, the Human Rights Watch report — along with the United Nations Committee Against Torture — blasts the Durham investigation, saying it’s neither thorough nor credible, and did not interview victims of the CIA’s harsh tactics.
“We’ve always been troubled by the closure of the Durham investigation, and never really quite understood what the basis for the closure of that investigation was to begin with,” Pitter said. “We’ve been asking the Justice Department to explain it for some time, we’ve sent multiple letters to [the Department of Justice] with no response.”
Human Rights Watch said they provided the completed report to the Obama administration last week, and as of Monday, had not yet received an answer.