Senate declassifies report implicating Bush officials in harsh interrogation policies

[JURIST] The US Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) [official website] on Tuesday declassified [statement] a November 2008 report [text, PDF; JURIST report] detailing the extent of top Bush administration officials' involvement in implementing severe interrogation techniques employed by US military forces against terrorism suspects. According to the report, the interrogation techniques originated from a February 2002 memo signed by former US President George W. Bush declaring the Third Geneva Convention [text] inapplicable to the al Qaeda conflict and denying prisoner of war status to Taliban [JURIST news archives] detainees. The report claims that senior administration officials, including former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and former Attorney General John Ashcroft [JURIST news archives] were directly involved in implementing the policies allowing harsh interrogation techniques at both Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archives]. The report concludes:

The abuse of detainees in US custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of "a few bad apples" acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.
The director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] Washington Legislative Office responded [press release] to the release of the report, saying, "Once again, we are presented with clear-cut evidence that the Bush administration’s highest ranking officials were not only complicit in the use of torture, but were actively engaged in its implementation. It is now time to act on this evidence."

The declassification of the Senate report comes just after the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] released four top secret memos [press release; JURIST report] from the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) [official website] outlining controversial CIA interrogation techniques and their legal rationale. The public release of the memos came in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text] lawsuit [materials] filed by the ACLU during the Bush administration. The ACLU has also called for an independent investigator [press release] to probe allegations of torture during the Bush administration. On Tuesday, President Barack Obama said that he would not rule out the possibility of prosecuting [transcript; JURIST report] lawyers responsible for authoring the memos. Obama had previously said that he would not pursue prosecutions of CIA interrogators [statement], a pledge which drew sharp international criticism [JURIST report]. Earlier this month, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) released a final version of a report [JURIST report] calling on current Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to determine whether any criminal laws were violated. In March, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) also called for an investigation [JURIST report] into Bush administration policies through the formation of a "truth commission."


 

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