On the heels of a bipartisan Congressional report
blaming high-level officials of the George W. Bush administration for employing
harsh interrogation techniques on detainees captured in the "global war
on terror", many of the world's most respected civil libertarians are calling
for the establishment of an independent commission to investigate the alleged
One of them, Amnesty International, has also released a detailed plan to close
the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Amnesty's four-part plan sets out recommendations for actions the incoming
administration of President-elect Barack Obama should take during the current
transition period, others immediately upon taking office, and still others to
be taken during the first 100 days and in the first 18 months of the new government.
Peter Shane, a law professor at Ohio State University law school, supports
the idea. He told IPS, "I think it is critical to the health of American
democracy that the historical record of 2001-2009 be set forth accurately and
comprehensively with regard to the use and abuse of executive power by the Bush
"A congressionally authorized investigation, whether conducted within
Congress or by an independent commission with subpoena power and adequate investigative
resources is essential," he said.
Amnesty's recommendations came as it was revealed that Bush administration
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates who has been nominated by President-elect
Obama to remain in office has also ordered the Pentagon to begin drawing
up a plan to close the notorious Caribbean prison. During his presidential campaign,
Obama said repeatedly that closing Guantánamo Bay would be a top priority of
The Congressional report, issued last week by the Senate Armed Services Committee,
concluded that former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other high-ranking
Bush administration officials were responsible for the harsh interrogations
against captured terrorist suspects that took place at Guantánamo Bay and at
Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Rumsfeld had attributed such abuses to "a few bad apples" lower-level
members of the military acting on their own. But the Senate report charged that
Rumsfeld bears principal responsibility for the prisoner abuses. Most civil
libertarians regard these abuses as torture.
"Attempts by senior officials to pass the buck to low ranking soldiers
while avoiding any responsibility for abuses are unconscionable," committee
chairman Sen. Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, said in a statement.
The committee concluded that the prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib were "not
simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own." Most of those
low-ranking soldiers were found guilty by military courts and are currently
serving prison sentences.
Rumsfeld's "authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent
interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials
conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate
treatment for detainees in US military custody," the report said.
The report added that Rumsfeld's authorization of aggressive interrogation
techniques for use at Guantánamo Bay "was a direct cause of detainee abuse
Following release of the Senate report, Amnesty International joined many other
human rights advocates in recommending a thorough investigation of prisoner
abuses by a 9/11-type independent commission. Sentiment for such a body appeared
to be growing, partly because many in Congress fear that an investigation by
Congress could become mired in partisan politics and because some members appear
reluctant to risk their political careers by becoming involved in such a divisive
and controversial issue.
Amnesty's recommendations provide a timeline and conditions necessary to attain
truth and accountability.
"Closing Guantánamo, as President-elect Obama has pledged, is just the
first step. For real change, the incoming administration and Congress must work
together to fully expose the Bush administration policies as a step toward ensuring
that the same abuses committed in the name of national security are not repeated,"
said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA.
The Amnesty plan urged that, in the transition period and before taking the
oath of office, President-elect Obama and his team should examine the options
for establishing a comprehensive, independent commission to investigate US
detention policies and practices in the war on terror and consider either establishing
a task force in the Attorney General's office or appointing an independent prosecutor
to take action on pressing individual cases. These tasks should be completed
during Obama's first 100 days in office, Amnesty says.
The commission's investigation should include activities conducted by the Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other agencies, as well as the secret transfer
of detainees known as rendition between the United States and other countries.
It should have access to classified material, subpoena power to compel the appearance
of witnesses, and a mandate to make recommendations as to criminal investigations.
The Amnesty plan calls on the president to present a progress report to the
nation within 18 months of taking office, and to provide a full report of the
commission's findings and recommendations by 2010.
In introducing its plan, Amnesty president Larry Cox said, "President-elect
Obama has a mandate from the American people for change and that begins with
restoring the United States' reputation as a country guided by the rule of law
and human rights."
"The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited
information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create
the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees,"
the Senate report said.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice admitted for the first time in September
that she led high-level discussions beginning in 2002 with other senior Bush
administration officials about subjecting suspected al-Qaeda terrorists detained
at military prisons to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding,
according to documents released by Levin.
"Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that
could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our
moral authority," the Senate report said.
The committee's report said Pres. Bush opened the door to "considering
aggressive techniques" by signing a memorandum on Feb. 7, 2002 stating
that the Third Geneva Convention did not apply to the conflict with al-Qaeda
and concluding that Taliban detainees were not entitled to prisoner of war status
or the legal protections afforded by the Third Geneva Convention, the report
Last April, President George W. Bush told an ABC News reporter that he had
approved of meetings of a National Security Council's Principals Committee,
on Feb. 7, 2002 where these officials discussed specific interrogation techniques
the CIA could use against detainees. This committee's advisers included Vice
President Dick Cheney, then National Security Adviser Rice, Defense Secretary
Rumsfeld and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, former CIA Director George
Tenet and former Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Civil libertarians are pressing President-elect Obama to make good on his pledge
to close Guantánamo Bay and investigate the prisoner abuses that occurred there,
at Abu Ghraib and at other locations, including the CIA's "black sites"
secret prisons believed to have been located in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.
One such advocacy organization, Human Rights First (HRF), prepared a plan to
close Guantánamo some months ago. Many other groups, such as the American Civil
Liberties Union (ACLU) and Human Rights Watch, have long advocated the closing
Geneve Mantri, Amnesty International USA's terrorism and counterterrorism director,
told IPS, "Amnesty International is urging President-elect Obama's transition
team to immediately examine the options of a Congressional Select Committee,
a Presidential Commission of Inquiry or legislative enactment of a Commission
"The transition team should ensure that an inquiry is a priority on the
agenda and build consensus toward a strong, independent, and nonpartisan approach,"
she said. "Our organization then calls on President-elect Obama to appoint
this commission of inquiry and ensure its independent operation within his first
100 days in office."
(Inter Press Service)