Human Rights First Calls on Congress to Fortify Efforts to Prevent Torture

Washington, DC Today, as the Senate Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts holds a hearing to examine “what went wrong” in the Bush Administration’s Office of Legal Counsel as it authorized the CIA’s unprecedented use of torture, Human Rights First called on Congress to fortify legal standards designed to prevent and punish torture in order to better protect America’s security and the safety of our troops, and to restore the nation’s reputation as a leader in human rights.

In a statement submitted for the record at the request of presiding Subcommittee chairman Sheldon Whitehouse, Human Rights First’s chief executive Elisa Massimino noted that a recent study had found that the use of torture and other cruelty obstructs efforts to combat terrorism and that bolstering standards of humane treatment enhances national security. She stated, “These revelations reinforce the conclusion that the CIA’s program was illegal under domestic and international law and that Congress and the Obama administration must take additional steps to ensure that such forms of official cruelty are never again authorized or employed by the U.S. government.”

Massimino’s testimony detailed a series of steps Congress and the Obama Administration should take to promote an accurate legal interpretation of the humane treatment standards the Bush administration legal opinions attempted to distort, obscure and evade. Among the recommendations were the following:

  • Uphold a single standard of humane treatment across the government for all interrogations, and ensure transparency in the interpretation and enforcement of that standard;
  • Publicly release key documents that summarize or attempt to justify cruel treatment;
  • Ensure proper reform and increased oversight of the Office of Legal Counsel;
  • Provide proper accounting of and accountability for abuses against prisoners.

“Lack of accountability for torture and cruel treatment creates a culture of impunity, setting the stage for future abuses,” Massimino noted. “A full understanding of how policies of torture and abuse came to be authorized at the highest levels of government is vital to forging responsible forward-looking policies. To this end, a nonpartisan inquiry should be established to examine the facts and circumstances related to U.S. government detention and interrogation operations since September 11, 2001; to assess the strategic impact of these operations; to identify lessons learned; to make recommendations to avoid future abuses; and to make its findings public.”

In June 2007, Human Rights First issued a joint report with Physicians for Human Rights entitled Leave No Marks: Enhanced Interrogation Techniques and the Risk of Criminality. The report was the first comprehensive evaluation of the nature and extent of harm likely to result from “enhanced” interrogation techniques that were authorized for use in the CIA program, as well as the legal risks faced by interrogators who used them. Since then, Human Rights First has continued to call for a full accounting of this failed program and has urged lawmakers to take steps to prevent repetition of past mistakes.

“For the safety of U.S. personnel, the United States must make clear to the rest of the world that it has abandoned abusive practices and the flawed legal reasoning of the past,” Massimino concluded.

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Published on May 13, 2009

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