Rights group says Obama creating torture impunity

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration is creating impunity for senior officials of former President George W. Bush accused of authorizing torture, the American Civil Liberties Union said on Thursday.

As Obama accepted the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, the ACLU, which has pursued nearly a dozen cases against the U.S. government since 2003 related to prisoner abuse, accused him of failing to provide accountability on torture.

“We’re increasingly disappointed and alarmed by the current administration’s stance on accountability for torture,” said ACLU National Security Project Director Jameel Jaffer. “The administration is actively obstructing accountability.”

Obama said in April that CIA interrogators who had used waterboarding -- a form of simulated drowning -- on suspected militants will not face prosecution and he released Bush-era memos specifying that the practice did not constitute torture.

Republicans criticized Obama’s release of the memos, saying it left the door open for the prosecution of former Bush officials who authorized severe CIA interrogations.

But the ACLU said Obama was instead preventing any investigations through his pledge to look forward and not review the past.

Jaffer said Obama deserved credit for disavowing torture and closing secret CIA detention sites abroad.

“But this administration is also shielding Bush administration officials from civil liability, criminal investigation and even public scrutiny for their role in authorizing torture,” Jaffer said.

“The Bush administration constructed a legal framework for torture. Now the Obama administration is constructing a legal framework for impunity.”


During his Nobel acceptance speech, Obama said the United States must uphold moral standards when waging wars that were necessary and justified.

“Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct,” Obama said.

By pledging to close the Guantanamo Bay prison for suspected militants in Cuba and moving to bring them to trial on U.S. soil, Obama has tried to recover the moral high ground that critics accused Bush of surrendering by waging a no-holds-barred war on terrorism.

The ACLU said a U.S. court needed to rule definitively on the legality of actions by the Bush administration to avoid a repeat of any mistakes in the future and that senior officials must be held accountable to ensure the credibility of the United States.

“The lesson that this is giving to the rest of the world is that countries do not have to be accountable for their actions even when torture and abuse occurs,” said Christopher Anders, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel.

“That’s going to make it much more difficult for the United States to push other countries on human rights issues across the board and it’s going to make it much easier for other countries to shirk their own duties to bring accountability for their own actions in the past.”

Editing by John O’Callaghan