by Alex Emmons, Co-Coordinator
Yesterday the New York Times reported that the United States Justice Department has refused to prosecute CIA operatives for the deaths of two prisoners – one in an Afghanistan prison in 2002 who was shackled to a wall in a cold room, and the other in an Iraq prison in 2003 whose corpse had been photographed packed in ice.
According to Attorney General Holder’s official statement, the case would not proceed because “the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction.” But, according to my assessment, it seems the evidence is easily strong enough to convict. According to a 2006 Human Rights First Report, between 2002 and 2006 the CIA documented more than 30 prisoners killed by suspected or confirmed homicides, and more than 10 who died from abuse-related injuries. With access to classified information, a military tribunal could easily produce enough evidence.
So why did the Justice Department decide not to proceed with prosecutions? Perhaps the Obama administration did so to avoid addressing the prosecution in campaign debates. But I would prefer to give President Obama the benefit of the doubt – and instead point to a different reason.
According to the New York Times, when President Obama signed an executive order banning “enhanced interrogation techniques” his first day in office, he also said that he preferred to “look forward as opposed to looking backwards” – meaning that he preferred to ban torture going forward and not prosecute CIA employees for former actions or for carrying out the policies enacted under a previous administration.
I certainly understand President Obama’s reasoning. Despite being nominally banned, torture became the de facto policy of interrogation operatives under the Bush administration. Officials as high up as Donald Rumsfeld approved torture at Abu Ghraib. Attorneys in the White House Office of Legal Counsel drafted the memos that sanctioned torture under the cover of interrogation techniques. Prosecution after the Bush era would be prosecution ex post facto – that is, after it was actually made illegal – and thus a violation of the principles enshrined in our Constitution.
Should CIA employees be prosecuted for torture? Would it help end torture practices in the American military? It is hard to tell. But it is clear that suppressing investigation and burying the truth prevents Americans from questioning our torture practices. Any solution requires a full disclosure and an impartial investigation.
Even the Democrat-controlled Senate Committee on Select Intelligence seems unsure about disclosure. They have not yet decided whether to release a redacted report on interrogation practices that covered an investigation spanning three years. In addition, President Obama has refused to support Senator Patrick Leahy’s (D-VT) proposed “truth commission” – a commission inviting CIA employees to testify on the acts they committed under the harsh interrogation policies and thereby receive immunity from criminal prosecution.
America cannot end torture without knowing the truth. Sign the Human Rights First Petition urging the Senate Intelligence Committee to release their report on torture practices.