Washington, D.C. – Today, following President Obama’s acknowledgement that the United States used torture after 9/11, Human Rights First called on the President and Congress to act to ensure that the country never again returns to the policy of torture.
“We agree with President Obama that the report, ‘reminds us once again that the character of our country has to be measured…not by what we do when things are easy, but by what we do when things are hard.’ However, the CIA’s response to the oversight process on ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ shows real reluctance on the part of the agency to grapple with its post-9/11 mistakes and ensure that those mistakes never happen again,” said Human Rights First’s Raha Wala. “Release of the report’s findings should prompt Congress to act to ensure that America never again resorts to torture or cruel and inhumane treatment. President Obama should direct the CIA and the rest of his administration to engage the report’s key findings, rather than defend agency actions that are indefensible.”
Alberto Mora, former Navy general counsel, added, “The president is right that the character of our country needs to be measured by what we did when things were hard. The use of torture violated our laws, principles and values, and how we respond to the recognition that we tortured will help define our character moving forward.”
Col. Steve Kleinman, a former Air Force interrogator observed, “There are lawful and effective ways to get intelligence. When you cross the line into unlawful and immoral behavior, it’s no longer patriotic, it’s criminal.”
Once the administration sends the committee its response to key portions of the CIA torture report, the committee is expected to make the findings and the CIA’s response public. That could happen as early as next week. President Obama has said that he unequivocally supports the release of the report.
The 600-page executive summary promises to provide details on the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” practices, setting the record straight on the use of torture and shedding light on the claims that torture played a significant role in gaining actionable intelligence post 9/11. In April of this year, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted in a bipartisan way, 11-3, to declassify the report and put an end to years of speculation and mistruths.
Since the Senate Intelligence Committee’s declassification vote, former and current CIA employees – including former CIA director George Tenet and current CIA Director John Brennan – have worked to discredit the report and are reportedly coordinating a response to the document’s release. Just yesterday, however, the CIA acknowledged that it inappropriately accessed a computer network used by the Senate Intelligence Committee during its review of the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program, further evidence that the agency has consistently misled Congress, the White House, and the Department of Justice about its interrogation program.
Earlier today, 20 of the nation’s most respected retired admirals and generals urged President Obama to ensure the unhindered release of key portions from the Senate Intelligence Committee report on post-9/11 CIA torture tactics. The call came in a letter highlighting attempts by former and current government employees to defend the so-called “enhanced interrogation” program by attacking the report.
For more information or to speak with Wala, Mora or Kleinman, contact Brenda Bowser Soder at [email protected] or 646-897-6372.
Additional Resource: Heroes against Torture
Not everyone went along with the torture program. Here are the stories of a few of the people who stood up against it.
Philip Zelikow, a former State Department lawyer and adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, argued against the legality of “enhanced interrogation techniques” in a 2005 memo. He made the case that controlled drowning, hanging suspects from the ceiling for prolonged periods, and other forms of abuse were in clear violation of the Constitution. A colleague later informed Zelikow that his memo had been destroyed. His words not heeded, he predicted that “America’s descent into torture will in time be viewed like the Japanese internments,” when “fear and anxiety were exploited by zealots and fools.”
When former General Counsel of the Navy Alberto Mora first learned that detainees at Gitmo were suffering “physical abuse and degrading treatment,” he began investigating. After obtaining copies of memos and briefs authorizing “extraordinary interrogation techniques” including waterboarding, stress positions, and hooding, Mora argued within the DOD against these practices. And when Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld appointed the Working Group to establish new interrogation guidelines, Mora lobbied to prohibit torture, citing evidence that it was not only illegal, but also ineffective. The military brass rejected his arguments, however, and implemented the “Torture Memos” without his knowledge.
Matthew Diaz, a former naval officer and lawyer, served a six-month tour of duty at Guantanamo Bay in 2004 as deputy director of the detention center’s legal office. At the end of his tour he sent an anonymous greeting card to Barbara Olshansky at the Center for Constitutional Rights containing the names of 550 detainees at Gitmo. Olshansky had previously requested these names, but the military did not cooperate. Diaz felt that his duties as an officer to follow orders and as an attorney to follow the law were at odds. Ultimately he decided to follow his conscience. For his actions Diaz was sentenced to six months in prison, dismissed from the Navy, and disbarred.
A retired major general in the U.S. Army, Antonio Taguba authored the document that became known as the “Taguba Report,” which exposed abuse at the Abu Gharib prison in Iraq. Taguba documented widespread “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses.” The report was published and leaked in 2004. Along with the infamous photos, his report sparked a national debate about torture. Taguba was asked to retire in 2006, presumably due to his dissent on the torture issue. He later characterized the Bush administration’s actions as war crimes and called for the prosecution of those responsible.
Former army reservist Joseph Darby discovered photos of his fellow soldiers torturing prisoners at Abu Gharib in Iraq. After facing a crisis of conscience – torn between loyalty to his company and his moral beliefs – Darby sent a disc of the photographs and an anonymous letter to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command. Three months later the photos were published, and Darby faced severe fallout. Due to death threats, he was unable to move back to his hometown. Nevertheless, Darby boldly testified at a pretrial hearing for one of the soldiers perpetrating the abuse. Torture, he said, “violated everything I personally believed in and all I’d been taught about the rules of war.”
Agents tipped off Former CIA Inspector General John Helgerson that interrogations at CIA black sites “might involve violations of human rights.” Helgerson then launched an investigation that resulted in a report documenting abuses that took place in CIA-run prisons. In the report, he questioned the legality of these practices and called them inhumane. He also wrote a critical review for Congress in 2005 of former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, who staunchly defends the torture program, calling for “punitive sanctions.” These documents proved to be foundational in exposing and condemning CIA torture practices.
When Captain (now Major) Ian Fishback reported abuses committed by his own unit during prisoner interrogations, those in command ignored his efforts. Frustrated by the lack of transparency or guidelines for interrogations and convinced the practices he observed were wrong, Fishback penned a letter to Senator John McCain about his concerns regarding torture and the violation of Geneva Conventions. In his letter Fishback also implied that Donald Rumsfeld was not honest with Congress about the extent of the abuses taking place at Abu Gharib, which the administration characterized as the work of “rogue” officers, not official policy. Fueled by Fishback’s letter, McCain went on to sponsor the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, which prohibits “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment” of detainees, regardless of physical location.
CIA officer Glen Carle was tapped to interrogate a “high-value target” at a “black site” in 2002. Carle refused to use torture during his interrogations and denounced those who did. He quickly realized that the detainee was “the wrong guy” and had not committed the crimes of which he was accused. Despite Carle’s objections, the CIA continued torturing the prisoner for information he did not know. Carle was soon replaced on the mission, and eventually resigned from the CIA. The detainee was not released until 2010. Carle’s (heavily redacted) book, “The Interrogator: An Education,” serves up a harsh critique of the CIA’s torture program and the Bush administration’s management of the Global War on Terror.
Interrogation expert Colonel Steven Kleinman, then a lieutenant colonel, was dismayed when he witnessed abusive practices during interrogations in Iraq. Kleinman refused to participate and instructed his officers to do likewise. His dissent, he says, made him “the most unpopular officer in that area, if not the entire country of Iraq.” Kleinman repeatedly explained to his officers and chain of command that torturous methods were not only illegal, but would not produce actionable intelligence. Kleinman wrote a detailed report and sent it up his chain of command, including to the Department of Defense inspector general’s office. No action was taken, and Kleinman was intimidated into not revealing the contents of the report with threats of prosecution for divulging classified information.