CIA torture: illegal from day one

CIA torture: illegal from day one
Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and US civil liberties lawyers say Senate report proves that US officials violated international law, and must be held accountable for their actions.
3 min read
10 December, 2014
Lawyers condemned the inhame treatment of captives [Getty]

Human rights organisations and lawyers have said the US violated international law, and called for prosecutions after the release of a report into the severity of the CIA's torture programme.

Amnesty International said the report, released by the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday, proved the US was in flagrant violation of the UN Convention Against Torture. The report, which the CIA had tried to suppress and was released in only partial form, outlined inhumane treatment including waterboarding, sleep deprivation and the sexual violation of captives in CIA "black sites" around the world.

Such treatment is in violation of the UN convention, article 1 of which defines "torture" as "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing ... or intimidating or coercing him".

Steven Hawkins, the executive director of Amnesty US, said the report proved that the CIA programme, which was approved by the Bush administration after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, was "unlawful from day one".

"This was not some rogue operation. This was a programme... that 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."

Amnesty called for all those responsible for the programme to be fully investigated, and demanded the release of the full report "with as few redactions as possible".

Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, released a detailed plan for accountability and called for prosecutions.

"This is a shocking report, and it is impossible to read it without feeling immense outrage that our government engaged in these terrible crimes," he said. "The government officials who authorised illegal activity need to be held accountable."

The Senate report was released the day before Human Rights Day, and the 30th anniversary on 10 December of the inception of the UN torture convention.

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, said: "The Senate report should... be the basis for criminal investigations on the use of torture by US officials."

In a video statement (above), Roth said that the Senate report clearly refuted the Bush administration's claim that torture was necessary for protection of the homeland, and gain information. "We didn't get actionable intelligence that couldn't have been obtained by lawful means," he said.

He said the CIA's justification for its programme merely relied on the legal opinions given by senior lawyers of the Bush Justice Department. These advisers claimed that the techniques were legal and did not constitute torture. They were wrong.

Roth said that a series of "torture memos" written by Bush's legal advisers were not honest interpretations of the law but "twisted efforts to justify the unjustifiable".

Barack Obama has said he stopped the torture programme when he became the US president, and recently admitted "we tortured some folks". However Obama has refused to permit a broad investigation, on the basis that he wanted to look forward, not back.

But Roth stated that not holding people accountable amounted to "keeping torture as a policy option" for a future president facing a security threat.