[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Tuesday urged [press release] the Obama administration to begin a criminal investigation into alleged detainee abuses authorized by former US president George W. Bush [JURIST news archive] following the 9/11 terrorist attacks [JURIST news archive]. In a report [text, PDF] entitled “Getting Away with Torture: The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees,” HRW provided evidence suggesting that Bush and senior administration officials authorized torture and ill-treatment of detainees, rendition and the use of CIA secret detention programs, and alleged that such conduct was in violation of the laws of war, international law and US federal criminal law. HRW indicated that the criminal investigation should focus on Bush, as well as three other top officials including former vice president Dick Cheney [BBC profile], defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld [JURIST news archive], and CIA director George Tenet. Though a number of key documents containing incriminating evidence against the Bush administration remain classified and those documents that have been disclosed are heavily redacted, HRW has compiled evidence supporting the allegation that the US committed crimes against detainees. HRW also indicated that Bush officials requested that politically appointed government lawyers create legal justifications to support the administration’s conduct. HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth said the current administration has failed to use adequate legal avenues for stopping the abusive conduct:
President Obama has treated torture as an unfortunate policy choice rather than a crime. His decision to end abusive interrogation practices will remain easily reversible unless the legal prohibition against torture is clearly reestablished. The US has a legal obligation to investigate these crimes. If the US doesn’t act on them, other countries should.
HRW called for an independent, nonpartisan commission to investigate the abuses because investigations that have already been conducted were limited in scope, not independent and lacked thoroughness.
Several human rights groups have urged investigations into alleged detainee abuses authorized by the Bush administration. In February, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the European Center for Human Rights (ECCHR) [advocacy websites] urged [JURIST report] the signatory states of the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT) [text] to pursue criminal charges [press release] against Bush. Other calls to investigate the criminal culpability of Bush and officials in his administration have been rejected consistently by US officials [JURIST report]. In November, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] urged US Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate Bush for violation of the federal statute prohibiting torture [18 USC § 2340A]. The ACLU argued that the use of waterboarding has historically been prosecuted as a crime in the US. Failure to investigate Bush would harm the US’s ability to advocate for human rights in other countries, the ACLU said. Rumsfeld has also faced possible criminal charges in Europe, when, in 2007, a war crimes complaint was filed against him [JURIST report] in Germany for his involvement in detainee treatment. The case was later dismissed [JURIST report]. In June 2010, the ACLU called [press release] on the Obama administration to stop shielding Bush administration officials [JURIST report] from civil suit and criminal prosecution in relation to the treatment of detainees in US custody.