The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] on Thursday published an open letter [text, PDF] to US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile, JURIST news archive], urging him to investigate former president George W. Bush [JURIST news archive] for violation of the federal statute prohibiting torture [text]. In his recently published memoirs [Random House summary], Bush admitted to authorizing the use of waterboarding [JURIST news archive] on suspects Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah, which the ACLU says has historically been prosecuted as a crime in the US. The letter also argues that failure to investigate Bush would harm the US's ability to advocate for human rights in other countries. Assistant US Attorney General John Durham is currently investigating the allegations that the US practiced torture during the Bush Era, but is not investigating the former president himself. The letter said:
The ACLU acknowledges the significance of this request, but it bears emphasis that the former President's acknowledgement [sic] that he authorized torture is absolutely without parallel in American history. The admission cannot be ignored. In our system, no one is above the law or beyond its reach, not even a former president. That founding principle of our democracy would mean little if it were ignored with respect to those in whom the public most invests its trust. It would also be profoundly unfair for Mr. Durham to focus his inquiry on low-level officials charged with implementing official policy but to ignore the role of those who authorized or ordered the use of torture.The letter comes days after Amnesty International [advocacy website] made a similar declaration [press release], saying that Bush's admissions "highlight once again the absence of accountability for the crimes under international law of torture and enforced disappearance committed by the USA."
In July, former head of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) [official website] and federal judge Jay Bybee [official profile] denied approving a number of interrogation techniques used by the CIA [JURIST report]. Bybee was questioned by the committee in May in a closed-door hearing about controversial memos written by the OLC during the Bush administration, which asserted the legality of certain enhanced interrogation techniques [JURIST news archive]. The CIA subsequently used the enhanced interrogation techniques on prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] prison facility. According to Bybee, a number of the techniques, including repetitive waterboarding, extended isolation, the use of blackout goggles and daily beatings, were not authorized by the OLC memos. Bybee admitted to authorizing limited use of waterboarding when performed in a specific way, but he contended that the manner in which the CIA used the technique went beyond the recommendations made in the memos.