World & Nation

Human Rights Watch calls for reopening CIA abuse investigations

Atty. Gen. Eric Holder

As attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr. initiated investigations into more than 100 alleged abuses under the CIA program. But he ruled out prosecutions in all of them by August 2012.

(Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

A major human rights group urged the Justice Department to reopen long-closed criminal investigations into alleged CIA torture of detainees in overseas prisons after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

In a 153-page report released Tuesday, Human Rights Watch argued that sufficient evidence exists for the attorney general to order criminal investigations of senior Bush administration officials and others for torture, conspiracy to torture and other crimes.

The group called for an investigation of officials who authorized the CIA program, including President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.

The human rights group relied heavily on the summary of a still-classified Senate Intelligence Committee report that revealed extensive details of mistreatment under the CIA program, including waterboarding, rectal feeding, stress positions and other painful techniques.


Release of the summary last December sparked a public debate over whether the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques had helped gather useful intelligence. The Senate committee concluded they did not. But it did not evaluate the legality of the program.

“It’s been a year since the Senate torture report, and still the Obama administration has not opened new criminal investigations into CIA torture,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Without criminal investigations, which would remove torture as a policy option, Obama’s legacy will forever be poisoned.” 

The Human Rights Watch report comes a week after the torture debate was reignited on the presidential campaign trail when Republican front-runner Donald Trump vowed to bring back waterboarding if he is elected, insisting that “it works.”

After the Sept. 11 attacks, “the CIA operated a global, state-sanctioned program in which it abducted scores of people throughout the world, held them in secret detention — sometimes for years — or ‘rendered’ them to various countries, and tortured or otherwise ill-treated them,” says the report from the New York-based group.


“Many detainees were held by the CIA in pitch-dark windowless cells, chained to walls, naked or diapered, for weeks or months at a time,” it says.

President Obama condemned the CIA’s use of torture as a candidate, but his administration closed the door on what would have been politically volatile prosecutions of former CIA officers or White House officials.

After taking office in 2009, Obama said he wanted to “look forward rather than looking backwards” on the issue.

His first attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., initiated investigations into more than 100 alleged abuses under the CIA program.

He ruled out prosecutions in all of them by August 2012, including the death of a prisoner in Afghanistan in 2002 and one in Iraq in 2003. He said there was insufficient evidence to prosecute anyone in either case.

But Human Rights Watch said there is “substantial evidence to support the opening of new investigations” on charges including torture, assault, sexual abuse, war crimes and conspiracy.

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