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Almost a year after the Senate released a summary of the interrogation methods implemented by the CIA after the attacks on 9/11, Human Rights Watch has released a new report.
It says there's evidence to warrant criminal investigations and eventually charges against those responsible for CIA torture of people detained in the war against terrorism. The report challenges claims by the Obama administration that legal obstacles prevent such criminal investigations.
Ken Roth is the executive director of Human Rights Watch and speaks with Here & Now's Indira Lakshmanan about the findings of the report.
Interview Highlights: Ken Roth
On the new Human Rights Watch report
“Our point is it’s been a year since the Senate report and there’s a year left to go in the Obama administration. And sadly, nothing has happened since the Senate report to try to hold to account the people who ordered, authorized or carried out the torture. In fact, it almost seems silly, but the Obama administration is under strict instructions not to read the report for fear that it would then become an executive rather than a congressional document, and therefore could be subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.”
They haven’t even read the Senate report, you’re saying?
"Prosecuting for torture could be done simply by executive action. There’s no need for congressional legislation."
“Precisely. It’s crazy. We don’t even have kind of the full revelation of the truth, let alone prosecution. And President Obama, if you talk to him about it, says ‘Well, I stopped torture. I stopped it right at the beginning. My administration hasn’t tortured. That’s good enough.' And indeed there’s even be some tightening of the rules, but I think what the Senate report shows is that if the rules are not enforced, they will be flouted again. Because inevitably, the United States is going to face another severe security threat and some future president is going to be tempted to torture again. Indeed, some of the presidential candidates now are already saying they would torture, although they used the ‘enhanced interrogation technique’ euphemism. So, you know, the lesson so far is that if you torture, you can get away with it. And so this has really become a legacy question for President Obama. You know, yes he stopped the torture, but does he want his legacy to be the president who allowed torture to remain a policy option. The only way to close off that policy option is to make clear that this is not just a crime written in the laws, this is a crime that will be enforced and those people who order, authorize or undertake the torture will be subjected to criminal investigation and, ideally, prosecution.”
On HRW’s report disputing the legality of the CIA’s interrogation practices
“There’s no question that the torture was torture. But yes indeed, the Justice Department at the highest levels put out the notorious torture memo saying the torture wasn’t torture. And the CIA’s been waving those around and saying ‘Look it, we relied in good faith on legal counsel, so therefore you can’t prosecute us.’ And what I think we now know, based in part on the Senate report, in part on other reports, is that there was no good faith in this reliance. That indeed senior policymakers in both the CIA and the White House recognizing they had a torture problem, went shopping for a legal solution. They tried to go to the Justice Department and say ‘Would you promise not to prosecute us?’ And that Justice Department – to his credit – refused to give that declination.”
Why isn’t President Obama pushing for prosecution?
“I think one is this misguided view of good-faith reliance and counsel. The other, frankly, is political. And I remember a meeting with President Obama early on, it was quite clear that there were just other priorities at the time, and they were important priorities – there was healthcare reform, there was immigration reform, there was climate change. And there was a long period where President Obama thought ‘I’m going to try to reach out to the center and I’m not going to do something that might antagonize them.' But what we’ve seen since the last midterm elections is that in other areas, President Obama has abandoned this cooperation strategy because it’s not getting him any place, and so on immigration reform, he’s going his own way; on climate change he’s going his own way. Prosecuting for torture could be done simply by executive action. There’s no need for congressional legislation. We hope that President Obama, as a matter of his legacy, will do the right thing here as he’s trying to do the right thing on immigration and climate change.”
Who would you like to see charged in connection with the CIA torture program?
"If an established democracy like the United States can’t bring its torturers to justice, how do you expect more precarious democracies around the world to do the same?"
“Certainly [Vice-President Dick] Cheney, certainly David Addington, his chief aid. Certainly people like [George] Tenet, the CIA director at the time. John Rizzo who was acting as general counsel to the CIA at the time. So yes, senior officials. The other type of person to look at is that when you look at the tortures themselves, in many cases, they went way beyond the torture that was authorized by the so-called torture memos. Even John Yoo, the principal author of those memos, said ‘God, I didn’t know some of this was going to be going on.’ And so, even if you’re going to accept that Justice Department document, there was a lot of torture that went way beyond it, and those people, the actual interrogators and their immediate bosses, could be prosecuted as well.”
Are you bringing this report up now because of statements made by candidates like Donald Trump, who says he would go further than waterboarding?
“This is exactly why it’s not enough for President Obama to have stopped the torture himself. He basically says ‘Yes, there’s a criminal law against torture, but if the next president tortures, I’ve done nothing during my presidency to close off that policy option.’ You know, yes these are difficult prosecutions, but if an established democracy like the United States can’t bring its torturers to justice, how do you expect more precarious democracies around the world to do the same? And I hope that President Obama recognizes in his final year in office that his legacy should be one of justice of the law rather than impunity for torture.”
This segment aired on December 2, 2015.
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