Attorney General Should Carry Out Full Review
August 24, 2009
The CIA inspector general’s report provides compelling official confirmation that the CIA committed serious crimes. A full criminal investigation into these crimes, and who authorized them, is absolutely necessary.
Joanne Mariner, Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program director

(New York) - The CIA inspector general's long-suppressed report on Bush-era interrogation practices shows the need for a full criminal investigation into post-9/11 detainee abuse, Human Rights Watch said today. The release of the CIA report comes as Attorney General Eric Holder announced a preliminary review of post-9/11 interrogation abuses.

The inspector general's report, completed in April 2004, details a range of CIA abuses that constitute torture under US and international law. It describes how CIA operatives subjected prisoners held in secret detention to mock executions, brandished a gun and an electric drill before one detainee, threatened to kill another prisoner's children, and employed other forms of torture.

"The CIA inspector general's report provides compelling official confirmation that the CIA committed serious crimes," said Joanne Mariner, Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program director at Human Rights Watch. "A full criminal investigation into these crimes, and who authorized them, is absolutely necessary."

News reports indicate that Holder's decision to open a preliminary investigation was strongly influenced by his repulsion at the abuses described in the inspector general's report.

"It's heartening that the attorney general has opened a preliminary investigation of these crimes, but it's crucial that its scope include senior officials who authorized torture," Mariner said. "Lower-level CIA operatives - even if using so-called ‘unauthorized' techniques - may still have relied on the letter or the spirit of high-level authorizations."

In announcing the preliminary review, Holder stated that the Justice Department would not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance provided by previous Justice Department lawyers.

Human Rights Watch emphasized that there is no meaningful difference between the abusive interrogation techniques "authorized" by the Bush-era Justice Department, and other, "unauthorized" techniques described in the CIA inspector general's report. Both sets of techniques have long been prosecuted as torture under US law.

Notably, the mock executions documented in the CIA inspector general's report are substantively akin to waterboarding, a technique specifically authorized under legal guidance provided by the Bush-era Justice Department. Detainees subjected to waterboarding, like those threatened with execution by a firearm, believe they face imminent death.

Given these concerns, Human Rights Watch cautioned that any investigation that focused only on so-called "rogue" interrogators who acted outside of official authorization, but not senior officials with overall responsibility for the CIA program, would lack credibility. Such an approach would validate the Bush-era Justice Department memoranda that authorized torture.

Human Rights Watch also called for a full and public accounting of post-9/11 abuses via a non-partisan commission of inquiry. Although several congressional inquiries, military reports, and Justice Department investigations have looked into particular aspects of the problem, there has never been a comprehensive public inquiry into the abuses, and investigations to date have either lacked independence from the executive branch or access to necessary documentary and testimonial evidence.

To date, the US record on accountability for detainee abuse has been abysmal. Human Rights Watch has collected information regarding some 350 cases of abuse involving more than 600 US personnel. Despite numerous and systematic abuses, not a single CIA official has been held accountable, and few military personnel have been punished.

The inspector general's report was released together with several other documents relating to CIA abuses, including a 2007 Justice Department memo reauthorizing abusive interrogation techniques, and memos assessing the value and effectiveness of the CIA interrogation program.