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Inspector General Urged To Investigate Justice Department For Ignoring CIA Torture

Amnesty International USA urged the inspector general for the Justice Department to investigate why the department has failed to examine human rights violations documented in the Senate report on CIA torture.

In a letter dated September 21 [PDF], AIUSA alleges the Justice Department failed to review evidence regarding the department’s role in human rights violations, which were committed by the CIA.

AIUSA also maintains the Justice Department gave contradictory statements about its handling of the report produced by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. This has enabled the Justice Department to evade public accountability and conceal institutional failures.

A redacted version of the executive summary from the more than 6,000-page report was released last December.

“Nine months have passed since the publication of the Senate Committee summary and the Senate’s transmittal of the full report to the Justice Department,” the letter notes. “In that time, the Justice Department has provided inconsistent accounts of its review of the full Senate report to the public, Congress, and a U.S. court. It has apparently failed to review the report. It has not established a process for assessing any new evidence of criminal wrongdoing that the full report provides.”

This has occurred in spite of the fact the Justice Department is supposed to enforce laws, identify any misconduct by federal officials, and investigate and prosecute crimes, such as torture.

In 2009, a Justice Department investigation led by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham investigated not only the CIA’s destruction of videotapes but also whether federal laws were violated during interrogations of “specific detainees at overseas locations.”

The investigation led to only two “full criminal investigations,” which were both closed in 2012. No person was charged, and the Justice Department has refused to make public any specific details about the scope of investigations.

AIUSA asserts the Senate report “provides evidence of numerous human rights violations that characterized the CIA’s secret detention program. It adds to evidence of human rights violations collected by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations over more than a decade.”

The torture report includes “significant new information relating to the commission of serious federal crimes, including torture, homicide, conspiracy, and sexual assault.”

Whether previous investigations were adequate, AIUSA argues the Justice Department should have reviewed the Senate torture report, assessed evidence, and established a process for reopening investigations and launching new inquiries into rights violations.

Specifically, as AIUSA highlights, the Senate committee determined at least 119 detainees had been in CIA custody. The Justice Department’s “preliminary review” by Durham only counted 101 detainees, some who actually were discovered to have never been detained by the CIA. So, “at least 18 detainees were apparently not even considered by the Justice Department’s prior review.”

“If the Justice Department was not aware of these cases, its failure to reopen and expand its review suggests a failure to fulfill its responsibilities,” AIUSA writes. “These were 18 people some or all of whom would appear to have been at minimum subjected to enforced disappearance, a crime under international law, as well as possibly to other detention conditions and interrogation methods that violated the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

The report detailed instances where forced “rectal feeding,” “rectal hydration,” and rectal exams “with excessive force” were used against detainees. There were threats of execution and sexual assault. None of these “techniques” were ever authorized by the Justice Department.

The CIA also employed “authorized techniques” in ways that were not approved by the Justice Department. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was subject to waterboarding that was ten minutes longer than approved and was followed up by the “use of a horizontal stress position” never approved by CIA headquarters. Abd al-Rahim al-Nashir was made to stand with “his hands affixed over his head” for about two and a half days, despite the fact that the Justice Department had determined hands could not be “raised above the head for a period” over two hours.

Significantly, the Senate torture report demonstrates the Office of Legal Counsel provided “assertions about the state of the law,” which were what the officials wanted the law to be. Officials like then-Attorney General John Ashcroft were involved in helping protect military and intelligence officials from being charged with violating the Geneva Conventions. In other words, they conspired to coverup torture.

Yet, in the past nine months, the Justice Department has made contradictory statements about what it has done with the torture report.

The department told a court in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit it has never opened a copy of the report and it sat in a locker, which the Senate committee provided. But, on June 23, the Justice Department claimed to the Miami Herald that investigators had “reviewed the Senate Committee’s full report and did not find any new information they had not previously considered in reaching their determination.”

When the Justice Department wants to prevent parts or all of the Senate torture report from seeing the light of day, it claims it has not touched the report. But, when questioned by press or asked by Congress members to explain why the Justice Department seems to care little about the report’s contents, the department suggests a number of people dropped what they were doing and made time to look over what the Senate committee uncovered.

Since the entire report remains classified, the Justice Department is able to get away with refusing to reopen investigations. It can continue to grant immunity to officials who were involved in torture. It can avoid having to face accountability for complicity in CIA torture.

But the U.S. is a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and has an obligation to thoroughly investigate torture, which occurred at the hands of CIA interrogators, and the role of high-ranking officials in authorizing and covering up torture.

Enforced disappearances took place in violation of treaties the U.S. is bound to follow. Victims of torture have a right to reparations or remedies for the treatment they suffered.

Finally, AIUSA concludes, “There is a collective and individual right to the truth about human rights violations such as those committed during the CIA-operated secret detention program.”

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."