Bush officials ‘must be tried’ for torture

George W Bush
George W Bush

Senior US officials who authorised and carried out torture as part of former president George W Bush’s national security policy must be prosecuted, a top UN special investigator said.

Ben Emmerson, the UN’s special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, said in addition that all CIA and other US officials who used waterboarding and other torture techniques must be prosecuted.

He said the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s harsh interrogation techniques at secret overseas facilities after the 9/11 terror attacks shows “there was a clear policy orchestrated at a high level within the Bush administration, which allowed to commit systematic crimes and gross violations of international human rights law”.

The report has sparked a firestorm of controversy in the US and abroad. President Barack Obama said the interrogation techniques “did significant damage to America’s standing in the world and made it harder to pursue our interests with allies.”

“The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy … must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes,” Emmerson said. “The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorised at a high level within the US government provides no excuse whatsoever. Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability.”

European Union spokeswoman Catherine Ray emphasised that the Obama administration has worked since 2009 to see that torture is not used anymore, but said it is “a commitment that should be enshrined in law”.

Bush approved the programme through a covert finding in 2002 but he wasn’t briefed by the CIA on the details until 2006. Obama banned waterboarding and other tactics, yet other aspects of Bush’s national security policies remain, most notably the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and sweeping government surveillance programmes.

Meanwhile, top CIA officials secretly told lawmakers that information gleaned from brutal interrogations played a key role in what was one of the spy agency’s greatest successes — the assassination of Osama bin laden by Navy SEALs in Pakistan in May 2011,

Then-CIA director Leon Panetta repeated that assertion in public, and it found its way into the film Zero Dark Thirty, which depicts a detainee offering up the identity of bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti, after being tortured at a secret CIA interrogation site.

But the CIA’s story, like the Hollywood one, is just not true, the Senate report on CIA interrogations concludes in a 14,000-word section of the report’s public summary.