George W. Bush and senior officials responsible for torture and mistreatment of detainees must be prosecuted, if not by the Obama administration then by the international community, a report released on Tuesday by Human Rights Watch charged.
The report, Getting Away With Torture, builds on allegations made in a 2005 report by the same name that officials at the highest level of the Bush administration -- including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, CIA Director George Tenet and Bush himself -- authorized systematic abuses including detainees being waterboarded and illegally transported to other countries for brutal interrogations. While the report acknowledges that these revelations are not new, its authors maintain that enough new documentation has emerged in the last five years to build a credible criminal case.
Human Rights Watch believes there is sufficient basis for the US government to order a broad criminal investigation into alleged crimes committed in connection with the torture and ill-treatment of detainees, the CIA secret detention program, and the rendition of detainees to torture, the report said.
Human Rights Watch also faulted President Obama for failing to level criminal charges against his predecessor, casting that inaction as a violation of the Convention against Torture. If Obama does not pursue Bush officials, the report suggests that the international community get involved, noting the precedent for countries to invoke universal jurisdiction over torture and war crimes.
President Obama has treated torture as an unfortunate policy choice rather than a crime, executive director Kenneth Roth said in a press release. His decision to end abusive interrogation practices will remain easily reversible unless the legal prohibition against torture is clearly reestablished.
Among the abuses detailed in the report are the practice of simulating drowning known as waterboarding, exposing detainees to extreme temperatures and sleep deprivation, and subjecting prisoners to beatings, near suffocation, sexual abuse, and mock executions. Detainees could also be transfered to other countries with more lenient interrogation laws such as Syria, Egypt, and Jordan where they were more likely to be tortured, a practice called rendition.
These abuses across several continents did not result from the acts of individual soldiers or intelligence agents who broke the rules: they resulted from decisions of senior US leaders to bend, ignore, or cast rules aside, the report said.