A Senate committee report summary detailing torture methods used as part of a secret US detention and interrogation programme is a stark reminder of the ongoing impunity for the many appalling human rights violations perpetrated in the name of “national security”, said Amnesty International today.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI)’s summary, released today, provides more details of how the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) resorted to “waterboarding”, mock execution, sexual threats and other forms of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment against detainees who had been forcibly disappeared. The acts were carried out during the rendition and secret detention programmes that followed the crime against humanity committed on 11 September 2001 (9/11).
The summary report also provides some information of the effects of the interrogation techniques and detention conditions on the detainees themselves, including “hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and attempts at self-harm and self-mutilation”.
“This report provides yet more damning detail of some of the human rights violations that were authorized by the highest authorities in the USA after 9/11. Despite much evidence having been in the public realm for years, no one has been brought to justice for authorizing or carrying out the acts in these CIA programmes,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director Amnesty International.
Limited US Department of Justice investigations into CIA interrogations were ended in 2012 without anyone being charged. Likewise the CIA’s destruction of videotapes of interrogation sessions – containing possible evidence of crimes under international law – did not result in any charges.
Access to justice for those who endured abuses has been systematically blocked by US authorities, including on the grounds of state secrecy.
“The declassified information contained in the summary, while limited, is a reminder to the world of the utter failure of the USA to end the impunity enjoyed by those who authorized and used torture and other ill-treatment. This is a wake-up call to the USA, they must disclose the full truth about the human rights violations, hold perpetrators accountable and ensure justice for the victims. This is not a policy nicety, it is a requirement under international law,” said Erika Guevara.
Interrogation methods used by the CIA included “water-boarding”, mock execution, prolonged sleep deprivation and stress positions. Some of these actions constitute torture under international law in and of themselves, others would amount to torture when combined or applied for a prolonged period, or else are considered cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. All are prohibited absolutely, without exception and in all circumstances. Enforced disappearance also constitutes a crime under international law.
The full SSCI report, which runs to some 6,600 pages, remains classified Top Secret. According to the committee Chairperson Dianne Feinstein, the report contains “details of each detainee in CIA custody, the conditions under which they were detained, [and] how they were interrogated”.
Amnesty International is calling for release of the full report with as few redactions as possible, and none that obscure evidence of human rights violations.
International partners in crime
The CIA and other US authorities did not act alone, but engaged a number of partners around the globe to help facilitate the rendition, torture, and secret detention of those the USA suspected of involvement in terrorism.
On 24 July, the European Court of Human Rights found that the government of Poland colluded with the CIA to establish a secret prison at Stare Kiejkuty, which operated between 2002 and 2005. The applicants in the case, and others, were held in secret detention and tortured while some were then rendered to other places where they were at risk of similar abuse.
In 2012, the European Court had ruled against Macedonia, finding it responsible for complicity in the torture and enforced disappearance to which Khaled El-Masri was subjected in US custody.
Other European countries to have worked with the CIA include Italy, Lithuania, Romania, Sweden, and the UK, amongst others. In 2012 and 2013 the European Parliament called on all implicated EU members and associated states to fully investigate their roles in these operations.
“The USA and all the countries that worked with it to transfer, detain and torture suspects, have an international legal obligation to ensure full accountability for crimes under international law, including torture and enforced disappearances. These countries must also facilitate genuine access to justice for all those subjected to them, and must provide the whole truth about the human rights violations committed in and around these operations,” said Julia Hall, Amnesty International’s Expert on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights.
Last month, the UN Committee against Torture expressed concerns over the USA’s “ongoing failure to fully investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment of suspects held in US custody abroad” and urged the USA to ensure that “alleged perpetrators and accomplices are duly prosecuted, including persons in positions of command and those who provided legal cover to torture.”
This followed a similar call from the UN Human Rights Committee in April. Both Committees also urged the USA to declassify and make public the full SSCI report on the CIA secret detention programme.
Amnesty International has been fighting to stamp out torture for more than 50 years. Earlier this year, it launched a global campaign calling on governments to genuinely implement effective safeguards against torture and other ill-treatment. These safeguards include prompt access of detainees to lawyers, families and courts, monitoring of interrogations, allowing independent checks on all places of detention, independent and effective investigations of torture allegations, the prosecution of suspects, and proper redress for victims.