Torture report: UN, rights groups demand prosecutions

Paul Handley
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The call from Amnesty International comes in the wake of a damning US Senate report that showed how the CIA tortured terror suspects

The United Nations and human rights groups called Tuesday for the criminal prosecution of US officials after a Senate report detailed a brutal CIA torture program.

But the Justice Department rejected pursuing charges against anyone involved in the interrogations, saying it had not found anything in the scathing, heavily detailed report that could lead to a successful conviction.

The rights groups and the UN's top rights defender said the report shows the Central Intelligence Agency's secret efforts to extract information from detainees after the 9/11 attacks repeatedly violated international law and basic human rights.

The 524-page summary report from the Senate Intelligence Committee details extensive waterboarding, beatings and other extreme "interrogation techniques" used on detainees.

The report "confirms what the international community has long believed -- that there was a clear policy orchestrated at a high level within the (George W.) Bush administration, which allowed to commit systematic crimes and gross violations of international human rights law," said Ben Emmerson, UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights.

"It is now time to take action. The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today's report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes."

Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, called the report "shocking," saying: "It is impossible to read it without feeling immense outrage that our government engaged in these terrible crimes."

"The government officials who authorized illegal activity need to be held accountable," Romero said.

The ACLU called on President Barack Obama to appoint a special prosecutor to examine "the role played by the senior officials most responsible for it and by those who tried to cover up crimes."

"If there is sufficient evidence of criminal conduct, the offenders should be prosecuted," it said.

The group acknowledged that Obama has already ended the torture program, but said the CIA needs to be forbidden from other activities related to it, including holding people in custody or operating detention centers like those where the torture took place.

And it said that the government should apologize to and compensate victims of US torture policies, in compliance with international law.

Such moves would "help ensure that the United States never tortures again," it said.

- 'Time for accountability' -

The calls came after the long-awaited release of the report -- which is actually a 524-page summary of the 6,000-page full report, with numerous details and especially the names of people involved blacked out.

Amnesty International said the report makes clear that the CIA was acting unlawfully "from day one" and its brutal interrogations were not a rogue operation.

Steven Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty's US branch, said the program "gave the green light to commit the crimes under international law of torture and enforced disappearance -- with impunity. It’s time for accountability, including a full investigation, prosecutions and remedy for victims."

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth said the report "shows the repeated claims that harsh measures were needed to protect Americans are fiction."

He noted that the Obama administration had ended many of the practices described in graphic detail in the report.

But Roth added: "Unless this important truth-telling process leads to prosecution of the officials responsible, torture will remain a 'policy option' for future presidents."

Emmerson said the torture carried out by the CIA could not be defended by the fact that it was authorized by top officials.

"Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability," he said.

"International law prohibits the granting of immunities to public officials who have engaged in acts of torture," including senior officials who authorized them, he added.

But prosecution of anyone -- which would put the Obama administration against that of his predecessor, Bush -- appeared doubtful.

The Department of Justice said that since 2009, it had already pursued two investigations into mistreatment of detainees and decided the evidence was not sufficient to obtain a conviction.

The DOJ said in a statement that investigators had reviewed the Senate report "and did not find any new information that they had not previously considered in reaching their determination."