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VII. An Independent Commission

In addition, Congress should create a special commission, along the lines of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States (also known as the 9-11 Commission),358 to investigate the issue of prisoner abuse, including all the issues described above. Such a commission would hold hearings, have full subpoena power, and be empowered to recommend the creation of a special prosecutor to investigate possible criminal offenses, if the Attorney General had not yet named one.

An independent commission could compel evidence that the government has continued to conceal, including directives reportedly signed by President Bush in late 2001 which have not been public and which are said to authorize the CIA to establish secret detention facilities and to transfer detainees to the custody of foreign nations,359 and the still-secret August 2002 Justice Department guidance to the CIA on permissible interrogation techniques which reportedly authorized the use of waterboarding.360

The commission could also examine Secretary Rumsfeld’s role in the chain of events leading to the worst period of abuses at Abu Ghraib.

Unless a special counsel or an independent commission are named, and those who designed or authorized the illegal policies are held to account, all the protestations of “disgust” at the Abu Ghraib photos by President George W. Bush and others will be meaningless. If there is no real accountability for these crimes, for years to come, the perpetrators of atrocities around the world will point to the U.S.’s treatment of prisoners to deflect criticism of their own conduct. Indeed, when a government as dominant and influential as the United States openly defies laws against torture, it virtually invites others to do the same. Washington’s much-needed credibility as a proponent of human rights, damaged by the torture revelations, will be further damaged if the torture is followed by the substantial impunity that has prevailed until now.

[358]The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (also known as the 9-11 Commission) was an independent, bipartisan commission created by congressional legislation and the signature of President George W. Bush in late 2002, to prepare an account of the circumstances surrounding the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, including preparedness for and the immediate response to the attacks. Its report is available at

[359] Douglas Jehl and David Johnston, “Rule Change Lets C.I.A. Freely Send Suspects Abroad to Jails,” The New York Times,  March 6, 2005; John Barry, Michael Hirsh & Michael Isikoff, “The Roots of Torture,” Newsweek, May 24, 2004 [online],

[360] See Toni Locy and John Diamond, “Memo Lists Acceptable ‘Aggressive’ Interrogation Methods: Justice Dept. Gave Guidance to CIA,” USA Today, June 28, 2004; Dana Priest, “CIA Puts Harsh Tactics on Hold,” The Washington Post, June 27, 2004.

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