UN Experts to Obama: Don't Bend to CIA Wishes on Torture Report

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UN Experts to Obama: Don't Bend to CIA Wishes on Torture Report

Open letter reminds Obama the world is watching, urges him to release transparent torture report

A group of UN human rights experts has urged President Obama to release the Senate report on torture "in the most complete and comprehensible form possible."  (Photo: Justin Norman/cc/flickr)

A group of United Nations human rights investigators has written to President Obama to urge him not to yield to the CIA but to release in the most transparent way possible the still-classified Senate torture report on post-9/11 abuses.

The Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), has been in negotiations with the administration over redactions to the report, thus continuing to delay its release.

As David Firestone wrote at the New York Times last week,

Deferring to the C.I.A., the White House has blocked Democrats from informing the public as to how much torture went on in the previous administration, and how poorly it worked.

[...]The administration is refusing to allow the report to be released if it includes pseudonyms for the C.I.A. officers who participated in the torture program, claiming that even fake names would endanger the officers. But without any name references, it’s impossible to follow the narrative thread of the report and understand who is doing what to whom.

Separate reporting by the Times last week adds:

Some Senate Democrats argue that it is absurd for the C.I.A. to now try to keep those pseudonyms hidden from public view, saying that blacking out the names distorts the report’s narrative and hides the fact that some of the abuses were carried out by the same people who continued to be promoted within the C.I.A.

Among those criticizing the delay in release of the report is U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who told the Huffington Post last week that the report "is being slow-walked to death" by the administration. "They’re doing everything they can not to release it," he said.

Author Jeremy Scahill has also accused the "White House, at the highest levels, [of] basically going through and editing what the American people can and can't read in this report about one of the definitive, moral questions and legal questions of our time, the extent to which we were involved in systematic torture, with lying to lawmakers, with misleading not only Congress but the American people on a wide range of issues that resulted in our country going to war and being involved in systematic acts of torture."

In their open letter dated Wednesday, the UN human rights experts underscore the importance of Obama committing to transparency in the report, stating that his "decision on this issue will have far-reaching consequences for victims of human rights violations everywhere and for the credibility of the United States."

Releasing the report in fullest form possible would garner credibility from torture victims worldwide, and show that the United States is committed to applying the same standards for accountability it has asked of other nations, they write.

"Victims of torture and human rights defenders around the world will be emboldened if you take a strong stand in support of transparency. On the contrary, if you yield to the CIA’s demands for continued secrecy on this issue, those resisting accountability will surely misuse this decision to bolster their own agenda in their countries," they write.

Releasing the torture report "in the most complete and comprehensible form possible," they write, would allow "the victims and the public to fully understand the facts. Your decision on this issue will have far-reaching consequences for victims of human rights violations everywhere and for the credibility of the United States" the letter states.

"We hope that as President of a nation that helped draft the Convention Against Torture – and as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate – you will recognize the historic nature of your decision and side with those in the United States and around the world who are struggling to reveal the truth and to bring an end to the use of torture," it continues.

It also states: "Lasting security can only be achieved on the basis of truth and not secrecy."

The authors of the letter are seven independent, fact-finding and monitoring human rights experts that are part of the United Nations' Special Procedures system. They include Juan E. Mendez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

In related news, U.S. Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.) this month called on Obama to pardon former CIA officer and now imprisoned torture whistleblower John Kiriakou, saying on the House floor that he was

the first American intelligence officer to officially and on-record reveal that the U.S. was in the torture business as a matter of White House policy under President Bush. In confirming what the American media and policymakers were hearing whispered--that waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques were a matter of standard military and intelligence procedures--he helped begin an intense and overdue debate over whether torture violated international law, tarnished our higher American principles and undermined the critical need for reliable, actionable information.

Kiriakou "did shine a critical spotlight on a CIA practice that many wanted kept in the shadows and he did challenge the authority of those who authorized, oversaw, and encouraged the use of waterboarding and other acts of torture," Moran said.

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