The watchdog organization Human Rights Watch has called on President Obama to prosecute former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for their role in the CIA’s secret torture program. “There is substantial evidence supporting charges of conspiracy to torture against senior US officials and CIA contractors, including evidence that some individuals joined the conspiracy after it was first established” says a new report from the group, which charges the politicians and other federal officials with the crimes of “torture, assault, sexual abuse, war crimes, and conspiracy to commit such crimes.”
Human Rights Watch has also named a slew of Bush Administration officials to be investigated for their role in the conspiracy and it’s cover-up.
“Based on the information outlined above, the following individuals should be investigated for their role in the conspiracy: Acting CIA General Counsel John Rizzo, Head of the Justice Department OLC Jay Bybee, OLC Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, the person identified as ‘CTC Legal’ in the Senate Summary, CIA Director George Tenet, National Security Legal Advisor John Bellinger, Attorney General John Ashcroft, White House Counsel Legal Advisor Alberto Gonzales, Counsel to the Vice President David Addington, Deputy White House Counsel Timothy Flanigan, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.”
The CIA’s torture program perfectly encapsulates the reckless disregard for protocol and human decency that defines the Bush Administration. The CIA’s own established institutional guidelines were thrown out the window when President Bush granted them unlimited authority to detain and hold persons suspected of involvement in terrorist activities. Emboldened by powers that would not have been out of place in the NKVD, not two months later CIA officers began researching potential legal defenses to justify the use of torture, which basically boiled down to “by any means”. President Bush declared in February 2002 that Taliban and Al-Qaeda members did not fall under the Geneva’s POW protocol, being nonstate actors, taking advantage of the specifics but violating the spirit of rules laid down in a different era, for a different kind of war. Faced with a new enemy who had successfully struck at the heart of our nation, traumatically destroying the sense of invulnerability we had come to take for granted, panic took over.
With the White House’s tacit approval, the torture program was put into action with the same inherent flaws that would doom the occupation of Iraq- an astonishing lack of oversight, over reliance on well-connected but unqualified contractors, the extravagant misuse of government funds, the exploitation of the goodwill of allied nations, and blinding zealotry. The torture program was devised by two outside contractors, James E. Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, psychologists who previously worked for the Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape School, but the men had no “experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialized knowledge of al Qa’ida, a background in terrorism, or any relevant regional, cultural, or linguistic expertise.” By 2005, these two men had formed a company to handle the torture program, for which they were paid at least $81 million. Detention facilities were covertly established in allied nations such as Lithuania, Poland, Thailand, Romania, and Uzbekistan, the purposes for which, and in some cases, the very existence of, were not shared with the host nations. Cash bribes were also used to pacify certain governments uncomfortable with the activities taking place within their borders, including a $1million transfer to Afghanistan, where the notorious SITE COBALT, or the “Salt Pit”, was located. These black sites came at a cost of $300 million, two of which never even saw use. When the true nature of these facilities came to life, the host nations were understandably appalled and the fallout dealt severe blows to our relationships with said nations.
The CIA’s general ignorance of the al-Qaeda organization resulted in questions being based from incomplete or out-of-context signal intelligence that is “often incomplete or wrong”. Once it became clear to the detainees that the torture would continue whether they cooperated or not, they began supplying false information, telling them anything they wanted to hear, as in the case of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 attacks, who lied when faced with the CIA’s delusion that he was attempting to recruit cells among black American Muslims. The CIA had very little information about most of the detainees and internal concerns that there was very little value to be extracted from them were ignored by Headquarters. It appears that at some point, these men were being tortured simply for torture’s sake. People were held for months without ever being questioned, due to a lack of translators.
A hundred and nineteen men were subjected to the CIA’s detention program; at least twenty-six of them did not meet the CIA’s standards for detention but were held anyway. By 2005, the program slowed and the question of what to do with the detainees was pondered as the host nations began to demand the closing of the black sites. By 2006, the high-value detainees were turned over to the DOD and Guantanamo Bay. The US Congress passed a bill banning the use of EITs in late 2007; it was vetoed by President Bush but the issue was finally put to rest by President Obama in January, 2009. It is far beyond time that we punished those responsible for these abhorrent actions.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.