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Rights Group Wants Bush-era Officials Tied to US Interrogations Program Investigated

FILE - A U.S. soldier stands in the turret of a vehicle with a machine gun, left, as a guard looks out from a tower at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, March 30, 2010.

An international human rights advocacy group says former U.S. president George W. Bush and other key former government officials should be criminally investigated for their role in the interrogation of suspected terrorists captured after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the country.

Human Rights Watch dismissed claims by the current administration of President Barack Obama that there are legal obstacles to prosecuting the officials. Obama's Justice Department ended a criminal inquiry into the "enhanced interrogation" program in 2012, and Obama has ruled out the use of torture in the future.

The rights group said that among others, former vice president Dick Cheney, one-time Central Intelligence Agency chief George Tenet, ex-attorney general John Ashcroft, former national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and two CIA-contracted psychologists, Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, who devised the enhanced interrogation techniques, should be "investigated for conspiracy to torture, as well as other crimes."

The Bush-era officials have in the past rejected the contention the interrogation techniques constituted torture and say they produced key information from the suspects to prevent new terrorist attacks.

‘Poisoned’ legacy

A Senate report a year ago detailed the interrogation program the United States carried out against some of the suspected al-Qaida terrorists American military forces and CIA operatives captured in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere in the years after the 2001 attacks on the United States that killed nearly 3,000 people.

It documented the use of waterboarding, which simulates drowning, rectal feeding, the use of painful stress positions and sleep deprivation.

FILE - Protesters simulate the use of waterboarding on a volunteer at an anti-torture rally in front of the Justice Department in Washington, Nov. 5, 2007.
FILE - Protesters simulate the use of waterboarding on a volunteer at an anti-torture rally in front of the Justice Department in Washington, Nov. 5, 2007.

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

Billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump, currently the leading 2016 Republican presidential candidate to replace Obama when he leaves office in early 2017, says he would renew the use of waterboarding and other techniques, contending that their use pales in comparison to beheadings that have been carried out by Islamic State militants in the Middle East.

"And if it doesn’t work," Trump said recently, "they deserve it anyway for what they do to us.”

A total of 107 of the 779 suspected terrorists the United States captured, some of whom were subjected to the enhanced interrogation, are still being held without trials at a U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, while a few have been convicted of crimes and hundreds more released to other countries.

Obama is seeking to close the Guantanamo prison, but Republican lawmakers in Congress have blocked his efforts and oppose suggestions the remaining prisoners be moved to prisons inside the United States.