December 1, 2015 / 2:40 PM / 4 years ago

Human Rights Watch demands U.S. criminal probe of CIA torture

(Reuters) - Human Rights Watch called on the Obama administration on Tuesday to investigate 21 former U.S. officials, including former President George W. Bush, for potential criminal misconduct for their roles in the CIA’s torture of terrorism suspects in detention.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) flag is displayed on stage during a conference on national security entitled "The Ethos and Profession of Intelligence" in Washington October 27, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

The other officials include former Vice President Dick Cheney, former CIA Director George Tenet, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Human Rights Watch argued that details of the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogation program that were made public by a U.S. Senate committee in December 2014 provided enough evidence for the Obama administration to open an inquiry.

“It’s been a year since the Senate torture report, and still the Obama administration has not opened new criminal investigations into CIA torture,” Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Without criminal investigations, which would remove torture as a policy option, Obama’s legacy will forever be poisoned.”

Representatives for Bush and Tenet declined comment. Representatives for Cheney, Ashcroft and Rice could not immediately be reached for comment.

Former Bush administration officials and Republicans have argued that the CIA used “enhanced interrogation techniques” that did not constitute torture. They argue that the Senate report was biased.

“It’s a bunch of hooey,” James Mitchell, one of the architects of the interrogation program told Reuters nearly a year ago after the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s findings. “Some of the things are just plain not true.”

In a video released in conjunction with the report, “No More Excuses” “A Roadmap to Justice for CIA Torture,” the president of the American Bar Association calls for a renewed investigation as well. In June, the ABA sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch also saying that the details disclosed in the Senate report merited an investigation.

“What we’ve asked the Justice Department to do is take a fresh look, a comprehensive look, into what has occurred to basically leave no stone unturned into investigating possible violations,” said American Bar Association President Paulette Brown. “And if any are found to take the appropriate action as they would in any other matter.”

CIA interrogators carried out the program on detainees who were captured around the world after the Sept. 11, 2001 hijacked plane attacks on the United States.

In 2008, the Bush administration opened a criminal inquiry into whether the CIA destroyed videotapes of interrogations. After taking office in 2009, the Obama administration expanded the inquiry to include whether the interrogation program’s activity involved criminal conduct.

In 2012, the Obama administration closed the criminal inquiry. Then Attorney General Eric Holder said that not enough evidence existed for criminal prosecution, including the death of two detainees.

Human Rights Watch argued that the Senate report contained new information that showed detainees were tortured in violation of U.S. and international law, including rectal feedings and unauthorized forms of “waterboarding,” which makes the person feel as though they are drowning.

Laura Pitter, Human Rights Watch’s senior national security counsel and the lead author of the report, said that calls from some Republican Presidential candidates for the revival of the CIA interrogation techniques made the need for a renewed inquiry that much more important.

“Until the inherent criminality of these acts is made clear,” she said, “there is a danger that future administrations will use the same tactics again.”

Reporting by David Rohde in New York; Editing by Grant McCool

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