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CIA Torture Report Provokes Calls for Prosecution


US Officials: Respecting Human Rights Boosts National Security
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Related video report by VOA's Scott Stearns, "US Officials: Respecting Human Rights Boosts National Security"

Calls for the prosecution of officials involved in the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's use of extreme interrogation methods on suspected terrorists multiplied Wednesday.

Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special envoy on human rights and counterterrorism, said a U.S. Senate report on the CIA's actions after the September 11, 2001, attacks "reinforces the need for criminal accountability."

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said nations "that have signed up to the convention need to follow up on what is in the convention” — a reference to the U.N.'s Convention Against Torture and Inhuman Treatment, signed by former President Ronald Reagan in 1988 and ratified by U.S. lawmakers in 1994. That convention obligates the United States to prosecute those who commit torture or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, said torture "will remain a 'policy option' for future presidents" unless officials are prosecuted.

The demand for accountability extended to Capitol Hill, where Democrat Mark Udall of Colorado spoke at length on the Senate floor.

“The CIA has lied to its overseers and the public, destroyed and tried to hold back evidence, spied on the Senate, and lied about torture and the results of torture," he said. "And no one has been held to account.”

Difficulties in prosecution

However, hauling alleged torturers before courts may prove difficult. The U.S. Department of Justice declined to prosecute anyone after a 2009 review of CIA interrogation methods, and so far the Obama administration has given no indication that prosecutions are being contemplated.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department said the United States was committed to complying with its domestic and international obligations but would object to foreign prosecution of U.S. officials.

Charges of war crimes could be filed at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, but the United States is not a member of the body, one of several complicating factors, said Georgetown University law professor David Luban.

“The ICC has jurisdiction over crimes that are committed by the nationals of its member states or on the territory of its member states," he said. "Whatever these crimes are, they are not war crimes. Even if they were, the ICC prosecutor is under a mandate to only take the gravest cases. And the former ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, made it clear that by grave cases he means cases with thousands of victims.”

Short of criminal prosecution, there were calls for at least some form of punishment.

“There are right now people serving in high-level positions at the agency [CIA] who approved, directed or committed acts relating to the CIA's detention and interrogation program," Colorado's Udall said. "The president needs to purge his administration of high-level officials who were instrumental to the development and running of this program."

Senate panel's report

The Senate Intelligence Committee report released Tuesday was a summary of a much longer report saying the CIA had mistreated prisoners during questioning. It accuses the CIA of misleading Congress and the American people about the effectiveness of those methods, which included confinement in small places, sleep deprivation and simulated drowning.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) (L) discusses the newly released Intelligence Committee report on the CIA's anti-terrorism tactics, in a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Dec. 9, 2014.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) (L) discusses the newly released Intelligence Committee report on the CIA's anti-terrorism tactics, in a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Dec. 9, 2014.

California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that "under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured." She called the CIA's actions a stain on American values.

President Barack Obama told the Spanish language television network Univision that the U.S. engaged in brutal activities. He called them terrible mistakes that should not be repeated.

Some in Washington questioned whether it was wise to release the report at this time, with the United States leading the fight against Islamic State militants and Americans being held hostage. They fear a violent reaction by extremists.

FILE - President Barack Obama
FILE - President Barack Obama

Obama said there is never a perfect time to release such a report, but he said when the country does something wrong, it is important to admit it.

The president banned the use of the so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" when he took office in 2009. His predecessor, George W. Bush, authorized the practice after the 2001 attacks, looking to prevent another one.

But the report says Bush did not know the details of what the CIA was doing.

The report detailed numerous instances of CIA abuses against suspects that were "far more brutal" than had previously been disclosed. They included "ice baths," as well as "rectal rehydration" — a form of feeding through the rectum — and threats that their relatives would be harmed. One suspected extremist froze to death while in captivity.

The current CIA director, John Brennan, acknowledged that the agency "did not always live up to the high standards" it set for itself. But he disputed the Senate's conclusion that the harsh interrogations were ineffective, saying they actually helped stop plots, capture terrorists and save lives.

Related video report by VOA's Zlatica Hoke, "Republican Senator Defends Release of CIA Interrogation Report"

Republican Senator Defends Release of CIA Interrogation Report
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Afghan president condemns actions

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Wednesday denounced the report on CIA interrogation tactics and demanded that the United States share information about all Afghan victims of what he called the “inhuman” torture.

In a televised speech, Ghani described the abuses detailed in the report as “shocking” and said the CIA officials and contractors who committed them had violated all internationally accepted norms of human rights as well as U.S. laws.

“Unfortunately," he said, "the report shows Afghan citizens were also tortured and their rights violated, but their number is not known.” He said his government wanted to know the names of all Afghan victims so that steps could be taken "to restore their rights and honor."

Ghani said it was particularly upsetting to know that even though some detainees' innocence had been established, they still had to suffer abuses at the U.S. detention centers.

The president assured his nation that under recently signed security agreements with the United States and NATO, foreign forces would not have the right to hold detainees in Afghanistan after December 31, when international forces will end their combat mission and most withdraw from the country.

CIA prison in Poland

Former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said that Poland let the CIA run a secret prison on its territory, but that Polish officials did not authorize harsh treatment or torture of the suspected terrorists at the site.

In an interview Wednesday with a Warsaw radio station (TOK FM), Kwasniewski said he urged then-President Bush to end all U.S. intelligence efforts at the prison more than 10 years ago.

Kwasniewski said the efforts were halted at some point.

This was the first time the former Polish president had publicly acknowledged the existence of the prison, after denying its presence for years.

It is believed the CIA ran the facility in Poland in 2002 and 2003.

VOA's Ayaz Gul in Islamabad and Michael Bowman in Washington contributed to this report.