U.N. Investigator Criticizes Obama For Record On Torture

President_Barack_Obamatorture -abu ghraibWe have been criticizing President Barack Obama for years over the failure of his Administration to prosecute officials responsible for torture as well as the intentional destruction of torture tapes at the CIA. Now a high-ranking United Nations official is joining the condemnation of Obama and his Administration. Ben Emmerson, U.N. special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights, has condemned the failure to prosecute a single person for the official torture program implemented during the Bush years. The Obama Administration has thrown the books at those who leaked the information on our torture program but Obama himself promised the CIA after his election that CIA personnel would not be prosecuted despite our obligations under international treaty.

Emmerson coupled his criticism with a call for the Obama Administration to release the reports on the U.S. torture program. Despite his pledge of transparency, Obama has kept such reports classified. Emmerson noted that “[d]espite this clear repudiation of the unlawful actions carried out by the Bush-era CIA, many of the facts remain classified, and no public official has so far been brought to justice in the United States.”

As I have written before (here and here), the Obama Administration has destroyed some of the core Nuremburg principles, particularly in its revisal of the “superior orders defense” to excuse U.S. officials. Emmerson specifically criticized the use of this defense that we once rejected by Nazi defendants.

Emmerson is specifically interested in a report by the U.S. Senate select committee on intelligence on our torture program. However, the chair of that select committee — Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California — has long been accused of covering up the program and the knowledge of Democratic leadership during the Bush Administration.

Emmerson’s non-binding report is just another embarrassment that the United States has gone from the leader against torture to the world’s greatest hypocrite on the issue. The fact that Bush ordered such torture is not itself an indictment of this country. We had the ability to redeem ourselves by holding our own officials accountable as we have demanded from other countries. Obama and his Administration denied us that redemption as a nation.

Source: Guardian

64 thoughts on “U.N. Investigator Criticizes Obama For Record On Torture”

  1. Off Topic:

    Obama Administration Says President Can Use Lethal Force Against Americans on US Soil
    —By Adam Serwer
    | Tue Mar. 5, 2013

    Yes, the president does have the authority to use military force against American citizens on US soil—but only in “an extraordinary circumstance,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a letter to Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) Tuesday.

    “The U.S. Attorney General’s refusal to rule out the possibility of drone strikes on American citizens and on American soil is more than frightening,” Paul said Tuesday. “It is an affront the constitutional due process rights of all Americans.”

    Last month, Paul threatened to filibuster the nomination of John Brennan, Obama’s pick to head the CIA, “until he answers the question of whether or not the President can kill American citizens through the drone strike program on U.S. soil.” Tuesday, Brennan told Paul that “the agency I have been nominated to lead does not conduct lethal operations inside the United States—nor does it have any authority to do so.” Brennan said that the Justice Department would answer Paul’s question about whether Americans could be targeted for lethal strikes on US soil.

  2. Gene,
    since AG Holder says American citizens can be targeted by drones on US soil under extreme circumstances, how about a domestic version of the Nuremburg trials?!

  3. I bought a bus ticket from Los Angelos to Philly. I got stuck next to this lady from the Bronx who yakked the whole time. I got off in Saint Louis to look at the Arch and she was right there yakking. On and on. When we got to Philly these goons kidnapped me and gave me a psychological drill of tests. The NY Yakker was part of a government torture program and I was the guinea pig. They gave me a prozac pill and let me go somewhere near a bus station. I was afraid to get on a bus so I hitchiked the rest of the way home. Next time there is a Presidential Election I am voting for a Libertarian.

  4. The increasingly criminal actions of government will only increase until accountability – including trials and prison time – is had for both the traitors and torturers in the Bush administration and the aiders and abettors in the Obama administration who have not only embraced Bush/Cheney’s policies, but expanded upon them.

    Sitting and former Senators, Representatives, Department heads and Presidents all need to be held accountable.

    There is a strong argument that our government is not and will not be legitimate until this justice is had.

    This will not happen as long as the two party system has a stranglehold on government processes. They will continue to protect one another until such a point that something really bad happens. They’ll go too far once too often and either the world will gang up on us or our own people will have impetus to break out the ropes and pitchforks. At one time, I held hope for a peaceful solution under the rule of law, but that hope has been dead since the day Obama said, “We must look forward.”

    Continuing and expanding criminal policy will not avoid what is coming.
    Ignoring the crimes will not make them go away.
    Justice for all isn’t just a good idea.
    It’s the law.

  5. The Jose Rodriguez lesson

    Perhaps it’s a bad idea to trust the executive branch to wield the most extreme powers in the dark, with no checks

    By Glenn Greenwald

    Tuesday, May 1, 2012


    “Jose Rodriguez, the high-ranking CIA official who ordered the destruction of 92 videos showing the agency’s interrogation of Terrorist suspects, was interviewed on Sunday night about his new pro-torture book by 60 Minutes (that show’s network, CBS, and the publisher of Rodriguez’s new book, Simon & Schuster, are both owned by the CBS Corp., now synergistically profiting off of torture advocacy). There is an important lesson to be learned from this interview.

    As many commenters correctly noted, the torture-defending Rodriguez is clearly a crazed sociopath (of the distinctly banal type identified by Hannah Arendt). At Esquire, Charles Pierce has a perfect post about all of this, writing: “I’m pretty convinced that Rodriguez is both a sociopath and a maniac” (his first paragraph, on the Obama administration’s serial protection of these war criminals, is a must-read). The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson notes that Rodriguez did not even bother to defend torture as a necessary evil but rather “bragged about its use in proving the manhood of the torturer” (indeed, Rodriguez’ claim that authorizing torturing meant people in government were willing to “put their big boy pants on” exposed a whole new level of psychosexual creepiness). Andrew Sullivan says Rodriguez is “a war criminal” who “has no shame about any of this, and intends to make money off it.”

    All of that is true, but the key point here is that Rodriguez — with all of his sociopathic, maniacal, proud war criminality — wasn’t some low-level rogue officer unrepresentative of the CIA. The opposite is true: he spent his career at that agency and advanced continuously, rising to lead what The Washington Post‘s Dana Priest this week called “the Central Intelligence Agency’s all-powerful operations directorate,” located “at the center of the universe at the agency.” He was essentially in charge of clandestine operations, including the CIA’s torture, rendition, black site and detention programs. And the criminal programs he is “sociopathically” defending were ones that were embraced by the highest levels of the U.S. Government, authorized by its Department of Justice, and protected from investigation and prosecution by the current administration. Rodriguez — sociopathy and all – isn’t some aberration in the U.S. Government’s intelligence and paramilitary world: he’s its symbol.

    As so many people react with revulsion to the mindset of Jose Rodriguez, perhaps this is a good time to stop and realize why it’s so dangerous and wrong to trust the Executive Branch to exert the most extreme powers — of assassination, indefinite detention, rendition, surveillance — in the dark, with no oversight, constraints or transparency. Those of you who are content to have the Executive Branch decide — without checks or transparency — who lives and dies, who is free and imprisoned, who is entitled to due process and who isn’t, are putting your blind faith in the Jose Rodriguezes of the world.

    Even people who don’t originally assume that level of unchecked power in a corrupted and sociopathic state can (and will) easily be transformed by it. That’s the inherently corrupting nature of unchecked power — of human nature — that led the American founders to insist on multiple levels of burdensome checks whenever power of this sort is exercised. Jose Rodriguez — his actions and mentality — is the inevitable fruit of placing faith and trust in the Goodness of American Executive Branch officials to exercise the world’s most awesome powers without any meaningful scrutiny and limits.”

  6. US: Zero Dark Torture

    January 12, 2013

    by Laura Pitter


    Zero Dark Thirty, the movie drama of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, has spawned a wide array of commentary. None is as misleading or morally disturbing, however, as the one from former CIA counterterrorism chief Jose Rodriguez, who seized on the film as an opportunity to defend — and completely distort — the CIA torture program he supervised. This from the guy who, ignoring instructions from the White House and CIA, destroyed 92 videotapes depicting the waterboarding of detainees in CIA custody, claiming it was to protect the identities of CIA operatives on the tapes.

    In Rodriguez’s rosy version of events, the CIA program was “carefully monitored and conducted,” bearing “little resemblance to what is shown on the screen.” Most detainees, he claims, received “no enhanced interrogation techniques,” and for those who did it was only after written authorization was obtained.

    Zero Dark Thirty has many factual inaccuracies, about which U.S. senators with access to the classified record have publicly complained. More important is that the film may leave viewers with the false impression that the U.S. government’s use of torture was an ugly but necessary part of the fight against terrorism.

    In Rodriguez’s rewrite, however, the torture program sounds like a well-guided walk in the park. What we know from released government documents and multiple interviews with people in the program, though, is that Rodriguez’s description of the program bears little resemblance to reality. Although the CIA did initiate guidelines requiring written permission before so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs) were used, the CIA’s own inspector general’s report says these guidelines were not formalized until the end of January 2003, when EITs were already in use. And though the guidelines were an improvement, the inspector general said, they still left “substantial room for misinterpretation and [did] not cover all Agency detention and interrogation activities.”

    Research I did for a September 2012 Human Rights Watch report documented the experiences of five Libyan opponents of the government of Muammar al-Qaddafi probably detained under the CIA program. During their time in U.S. custody — ranging from eight months to two years — they said they were chained to walls in pitch-dark cells, often naked, sometimes while diapered, for weeks or months at a time; restrained in painful stress positions for as long as two weeks; forced into cramped spaces; beaten; repeatedly slammed into walls; kept inside for nearly three months without the ability to bathe or cut their hair or nails (“We looked like monsters,” one detainee said); denied food and sleep; and subjected to continuous, deafeningly loud music. They were held incommunicado with no visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross. Their families had no idea whether they were alive or dead. From released documents, we also know that techniques like placing a detainee with a known fear of bugs “in a cramped confinement box with an insect,” and then falsely telling him it would sting, were approved for use.

    Rodriguez claims, “No one was hung from ceilings” in the CIA program. Yet, of the five detainees interviewed for our report, two said they were restrained in cells with their hands above their heads. One said he was kept this way for three days while naked, forced to urinate on himself; the other said he was restrained with his hands above his head for about 15 days, in an extremely cold cell while naked except for a diaper. He was only taken out of the room about five times for questioning. A third detainee said he was restrained with his handcuffed wrists above his head while kept in a tall narrow box with speakers on both sides of his head, just inches from his ears, blasting loud music. He was in this box, naked, without food, for a day and a half. Other detainees have described similarly being restrained from above at what appears to be the same location.

    Rodriguez also said, as have other CIA officials in the past, that only three detainees, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, were waterboarded in the program — though the CIA qualified this a bit after our report came out, saying it was on record as having said there were only three “substantiated” cases of waterboarding. Yet one of the five Libyan detainees I spoke with (though not using the term “waterboarded”) gave credible testimony that he was frequently strapped to a wooden board, with a hood over his head, while water was poured over his nose and mouth to the point that he felt like he would suffocate. Another detainee said he was threatened with use of the board but that it was never used on him.

    Both said they were subjected to another type of suffocation-inducing water abuse that, like waterboarding, is a form of torture. Each was forced, separately, to lie in plastic sheeting, hooded, sometimes while naked, while guards poured icy cold water all over them, including over their nose and mouth, to the point where they felt they would suffocate. The men said doctors were present during both types of water torture, raising issues of medical ethics.

    Moreover, Rodriguez doesn’t mention the number of times waterboarding was used on each detainee he acknowledges — 183 on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, at least 83 on Abu Zubaydah, and twice on Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri — and the sensation of near death the practice produces.

    Rodriguez also claims that “no one was bloodied or beaten in the enhanced interrogation program,” ignoring that some of the longest-lasting effects of torture are psychological. But many detainees that we and others have interviewed, including the Libyans, did describe being beaten in the program, especially during transfer procedures. And some were sent to other countries by the CIA with the knowledge and understanding that they would be beaten and tortured there.

    These are just a few of the details we know about the CIA program. Unfortunately, there is still a lot we do not know. We still don’t know, for example, all the names of those held as part of the program, how long they were detained, when they were released, and what happened to them. The details that are known have been pieced together by journalists and human rights workers tracking down former detainees, filing Freedom of Information Act requests, and litigating.

    The U.S. government has gone to great lengths to keep information about the program secret. The Justice Department refused to prosecute Rodriguez for destruction of evidence — those 92 videotapes depicting waterboarding — or any other senior U.S. official or CIA operative involved in the abuse for that matter, despite a four-year investigation. (Rodriguez was lightly reprimanded by the CIA.)

    Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee recently produced a report — more than 6,000 pages long — that provides the most comprehensive information about the CIA’s torture program. Congress has yet to make the report public, though the Senate Intelligence Committee chair, Dianne Feinstein, said it “uncovers startling details” about the program and raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight. She has also said it concludes that the use of enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective way to gain intelligence and did not lead to finding bin Laden. Rodriguez, who had left the CIA years before the bin Laden operation in Abbottabad, Pakistan, asserts exactly the opposite, yet evidence that rebuts his claims remains classified.

    This brings us to maybe the most frustrating thing about Rodriguez’s comments and this whole debate about Zero Dark Thirty. We would not even be having this debate, and this film probably would not have even been made in the way it was, had the U.S. government not gone to such great lengths over the past 11 years to cover up the tracks of its crimes and bury the facts. Make no mistake about it: These allegations amount to crimes.

    What the United States is alleged to have done in its name is torture — practices prohibited by the Convention Against Torture, ratified by the United States and 152 other countries, and U.S. law under the Anti-Torture Act. It is also prohibited during times of war by the Geneva Conventions, again ratified by the United States and virtually every other country. The U.S. government’s authorization of torture during George W. Bush’s administration violated U.S. law and should be prosecuted.

    It is deeply disappointing that President Barack Obama and the Justice Department have ignored these calls for sanction. In the absence of accountability, however, the least the United States should do is publicly acknowledge and explain the reasons that the use of torture was wrong and counterproductive.

    The Senate Intelligence Committee report appears to be an opportunity to do just that. Calling the use of enhanced interrogation techniques a “terrible mistake,” Feinstein said, “I also believe this report will settle the debate once and for all over whether our nation should ever employ coercive interrogation techniques.” Yet while the report remains classified, available to just a handful of senators, CIA insiders like Rodriguez are free to say what they please, and unfortunately, the debate rages on.

  7. 0 State leaders held accountable for torture -Max-1


    And no accountability for destruction of the CIA’s “torture tapes” either.

    “We are also troubled by Mr. Rodriguez’s statements justifying the destruction of video tapes documenting the use of coercive interrogation techniques as “just getting rid of some ugly visuals.” His decision to order the destruction of the tapes was in violation of instructions from CIA and White House lawyers, and unnecessarily caused damage ot the CIA’s reputation.” -Joint statement by Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin

    http://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/files/serve?File_id=026a329b-d4c0-4ab3-9f7e-fad5671917cc (worth revisiting)


    From the following piece by Glenn Greenwald:

    The Jose Rodriguez lesson


    “…Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein issued a statement about his 60 Minutes interview matter-of-factly stating that his order to destroy videotapes “illustrates a blatant disregard for the law.” Yes, obviously it does: and that’s what makes the DOJ’s refusal to prosecute him so corrupt.

    Of course, Executive Branch officials, even when it comes to most egregious crimes, are beyond the rule of law when it comes to actions they take as part of U.S. Government policy.

    * * * * *

    Andrew Sullivan — who once called for Obama to be prosecuted as a war criminal for his complicity in Bush war crimes — today rhapsodizes that Obama “restored this country’s moral credibility after the dark period of Nazi-style interrogation under Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld.” Among whom exactly did he do that?” -Glenn Greenwald

  8. Max-1 1, March 5, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    anonymously posted
    1, March 5, 2013 at 9:30 am

    That was then (this am), as of now, nada on HP’s front page (can’t let too many eyes spy truth). But everything Justin Biber is there for days…


    Not a surprise, Max-1. Thanks for the update.

  9. anonymously posted
    1, March 5, 2013 at 9:30 am

    That was then (this am), as of now, nada on HP’s front page (can’t let too many eyes spy truth). But everything Justin Biber is there for days…

  10. 54 Nations involved in torture
    20 prisoners still unaccounted for
    1 whistle blower behind bars for exposing the torture
    0 State leaders held accountable for torture

  11. Thomson Reuters

    March 5, 2013 12:45

    Britain says will release parts of secret report on rendition

    * British envoy says plans to release part of inquiry

    * U.N. investigator talks of US-led “criminal matrix”

    * U.S. delegation says still studying U.N. report

    * ACLU denounces impunity for torture as “abhorrent”

    By Stephanie Nebehay

    GENEVA, March 5 (Reuters) – Britain will publish parts of a confidential report on its role in the U.S. “rendition” of foreign terrorism suspects, its envoy to the main U.N. human rights forum said on Tuesday.

    The announcement came in response to a demand from a special U.N. investigator that the United States and Britain publish their own findings on rendition, a policy used under former U.S. President George W. Bush to snatch suspected Islamist militants abroad and interrogate them in secret detention.

    Ben Emmerson, counter-terrorism investigator for the United Nations Human Rights Council, said on Tuesday it must hold “all states including the most powerful nations in the world to account”.

    “The exposure of the criminal matrix organised by the Bush-era CIA (the U.S. intelligence agency), from the heart of the world’s most powerful democracy, now calls for an unequivocal response from all of the states that took part in the programme,” Emmerson said.

    The U.S. delegation said it was still studying a U.N. report issued a day before and its “substantial detail”.

    But Britain’s Ambassador Karen Pearce told the 47-member state council that London would publish at least some of the conclusions of an inquiry by judge Peter Gibson who was asked in 2010 to examine whether British agents were involved in mistreatment or rendition of detainees held by other countries. His 2012 interim report has not been published.

    “We are looking carefully at the contents of the report by the Gibson Inquiry on its preparatory work, with a view to publishing as much of it as possible,” Pearce said.

    The inquiry had not yet formally started due to related police investigations still under way, Pearce said.

    “We fully intend to hold an independent, judge-led inquiry once these investigations are completed but we are not in a position to provide a timetable given these ongoing inquiries.”


    Emmerson says the “war on terror” waged by Bush after al Qaeda attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001 led to “gross or systematic” violations involving secret prisons for Islamic militant suspects, clandestine transfers and torture.

    Bush said in his memoirs that he had ordered the use of “waterboarding” which many rights experts consider a form of torture banned by international law.

    A U.S. Senate select committee on intelligence, chaired by Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, investigated the CIA secret detention and interrogation programme, including the use of waterboarding, which simulates drowning. Its report was completed in December 2011 but not published.

    “As the state that was in the past at least the architect of this web and an international conspiracy of crime, it seems somewhat disappointing that once an investigation has taken place that its results should currently remain secret,” Emmerson said at Tuesday’s debate.

    Jamil Dakwar of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also called for the 6,000-page Senate report to be released.

    “Definitive evidence has come to light that Bush administration officials committed serious crimes in violation of both U.S. and international law by authorising the torture and abuse of detainees in U.S. custody,” he told the U.N. forum.

    Although President Barack Obama’s administration had disavowed torture, “it has shielded former senior government officials who authorized torture and abuse from accountability, civil liability and public scrutiny,” Dakwar said.

    “We unequivocally reject President Obama’s statement that ‘we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards’,” he said. “Impunity for torture is abhorrent and we will continue to press for accountability – both in the United States and overseas.” (Editing by Robin Pomeroy)


  12. U.N.’s Drone Inquisitor: CIA Torture Was An ‘International Conspiracy of Crime’

    by Spencer Ackerman



    As his inquiry into U.S. drone strikes gets underway, the United Nations special rapporteur for counterterrorism and human rights has stepped up his rhetoric against the agency he’ll inevitably investigate. The CIA’s torture program was at the center of an “international conspiracy of crime,” he told a U.N. panel on Tuesday.

    The CIA’s torture in the last decade is unrelated from its current drone campaign. But Ben Emmerson, the U.N. rapporteur, will still need access to the drones from a CIA he portrayed on Tuesday morning as something similar to a Bond villain. In an interview with Danger Room last month, Emmerson said he was confident the Obama administration would grant him access to one of its most secretive counterterrorism programs.

    The extent of international cooperation with the CIA’s torture, detention and rendition regime during the past decade was the focus of a recent Open Society Institute report. The Open Society Institute found last month that over 50 nations in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa aided the CIA in holding suspected al-Qaida members, including people ultimately found to be innocent, in brutal conditions. A former Bush administration State Department official, Philip Zelikow, told his then-colleagues in 2006 that the CIA torture amounted to a “felony war crime.”

    Emmerson, speaking to the U.N. Human Rights Council, called on the Senate intelligence committee to promptly declassify an extensive inquiry of its own into CIA torture. He said he was “concerned” that the Obama administration has declined to prosecute anyone for authorizing or inflicting torture, warning that such “impunity” undermined western calls for entrenching democratic norms in the Middle East and North Africa.

    “It will also take time for the Western democracies to restore the confidence that was shattered among Muslim communities by the CIA policy of secret detention, rendition and torture, and the decade of impunity that has followed,” Emmerson told the panel.

    The man most likely to deal with Emmerson on drones, White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan, is likely to have to reckon with torture as well. Senators have stalled John Brennan’s nomination to lead the CIA for reasons including Brennan’s views on torture, which he publicly condemned and repudiated during his confirmation hearing last month. A vote on Brennan’s nomination — which Emmerson has endorsed — could come as early as Tuesday in the Senate intelligence committee. That might set up a frank talk at a later date between Brennan and Emmerson

  13. Blouse,

    Such fresh air…. It’s nice to see that one is capable of seeing both sides of the side walk….

  14. Our refined Mr Ben Emmerson, QC, is an international lawyer of some repute and he’s assembled a blue ribbon team to investigate drone strikes, torture, and most anything he deems pertinent as the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-terrorism. He’s sort of a roving commission on all things wrong. While his team of examiners (which includes the U.S. Army captain who defended KSM) enjoys influence among some members of the international community the value of his work is disputed. No inroads against actors like North Korea and Saudi Arabia who regularly ignore his demands for access to investigate human rights abuses thus leaving him to pick the relatively low hanging fruit of the Western democracies who allow restricted access.

    To quote Macbeth, his is a tale, “[t]old by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” If America is to do something about torture crimes under Bush, this Brit — nor his employer, the UN — will be neither the reason nor the answer.

  15. Congress makes rules to suit itself, the president breaks the rules when it serves him, and the supremes say we don’t have standing to question any of this.

    Sad state of affairs in America.

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