'Torture in the Name of National Security Is Still a Criminal Offense'

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'Torture in the Name of National Security Is Still a Criminal Offense'

ACLU, Human Rights Watch demand Attorney General appoint special prosecutor to investigate "depravity" of CIA torture

"A full investigation is necessary to show that torture in the name of national security is still a criminal offense," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. (Photo: Justin Norman/cc/flickr)

The shocking crimes and "depravity of the tactics" revealed by the Senate report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s torture program make clear that a full criminal investigation by the Justice Department is warranted, two human rights organizations have stated.

In a letter dated Monday and sent to Attorney General Eric Holder, the ACLU and Human Rights Watch write that the newly released report "synthesized a huge volume of information into a narrative that clarifies the extent and seriousness of criminal conduct."

The conduct included the "commission of serious federal crimes, including torture, homicide, conspiracy, and sexual assault," the letter states.

"There is no need to repeat the details in this letter to you," the organizations write, "but we believe it is fair to say that many of these crimes would be horrific even if committed by an individual acting alone; but when done as part of a deliberate, coordinated government program, the crimes are more shocking and far more corrosive to U.S. democracy."

Holder should appoint a special prosecutor, the letter states, because the Senate "report reveals significant new information about the nature of the abuse inflicted on the CIA’s prisoners; the number of prisoners who were subjected to that abuse; and the decisions that led to the infliction of that abuse." The letter states that the report provides "evidence that senior CIA officials [...] knew that the conduct amounted to illegal torture before they ever sought the guidance and went looking for legal cover."

In addition, it appears that the possibility use of such methods by future administrations remains open, given that some of the officials that authorized the conduct have in recent days been publicly defending the tactics' legality—an appearance, the letter states, fostered by the absence of a criminal investigation.

"The Senate torture report shows that CIA officials knew their methods were illegal and tried hard to cover them up," Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. "A full investigation is necessary to show that torture in the name of national security is still a criminal offense," he stated.

The organizations' demand for prosecutions echoes calls made by United Nations officials, and comes the same day as a New York Times editorial entitled Prosecute Torturers and Their Bosses.

The Senate report revealed acts that "are, simply, crimes," the Times' editorial board writes. "The nation cannot move forward in any meaningful way without coming to terms, legally and morally, with the abhorrent acts that were authorized, given a false patina of legality, and committed by American men and women from the highest levels of government on down."

"No amount of legal pretzel logic can justify the behavior detailed in the report," the editorial states. "Indeed, it is impossible to read it and conclude that no one can be held accountable. At the very least, Mr. Obama needs to authorize a full and independent criminal investigation."

There is only one U.S. government employee that has so far been prosecuted in connection to the torture program: CIA torture whistleblower John Kiriakou.

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