U.S. called on to release report on CIA torture

U.N. human rights advocate demands details on Bush-era CIA program, including 6,000-page Senate intelligence report

Published March 5, 2013 2:29PM (EST)

The U.N. human rights advocate who monitors counterterrorism has joined the chorus of voices demanding the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee's 6,000 report on the CIA's rendition program. British attorney Ben Emmerson Q.C. delivered a report to the Human Rights Council Tuesday, demanding both the British and American governments release classified documents about the the kidnapping and torture of terror suspects, known to have been aided by 54 governments worldwide.

“The special rapporteur calls on the United States to release the full Senate Select Committee report as soon as possible, subject to the specific redaction of such particulars as are considered by the Select committee itself to be strictly necessary to safeguard legitimate national security interests or the physical safety of persons identified,” Emmerson's report states, according to the Washington Post.

The special rapporteur -- who is also currently overseeing a special investigation into civilian deaths from U.S. drone strikes -- asked that Britain publish the interim findings of a report by a retired judge, Sir Peter Gibson, into the involvement of MI5 and MI6 in the rendition of terror suspects.

The current position de rigeur in Washington is to grandstand against the kidnapping and torture practices of not so long ago. CIA director nominee John Brennan, documented as having previously supported extraordinary rendition of terror suspects, vociferously condemned the shuttered program in his confirmation hearing and claimed to have long decried it. But as Glenn Greenwald pointed out in January, "President Obama has expended extraordinary efforts to protect from accountability all Bush-era officials responsible for torture, rendition and warrantless eavesdropping, programs that numerous human rights groups have insisted constitute war crimes and violations of U.S. criminal law...The result is that support for those war crimes no longer carries any real stigma."

Emmerson stressed that grandstanding will not suffice:

Words are not enough. Platitudinous repetition of statements affirming opposition to torture ring hollow to many in those parts of the Middle East and North Africa that have undergone, or are undergoing, major upheaval, since they have first-hand experience of living under repressive regimes that used torture in private whilst making similar statements in public.

The human rights advocate sharply criticized Attorney General Eric Holder's ruling out any criminal prosecutions of U.S. interrogators who were operating within the bounds of legal advice outlined by the Bush administration’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). “In the view of the special rapporteur... this comes close to an assertion of the ‘superiors orders’ defense, despite its prohibition under customary law and international treaties,” noted Emmerson's report.

But while Emmerson is calling for more than words from the U.S. and the U.K., he can offer little more himself. The special rapporteur's report is not endorsed by the U.N. leadership and -- of course -- there is no legal obligation  for either the U.S. or the U.K. to comply with the request for reports.

Attempts by victims of extraordinary rendition to seek justice in U.S. courts have come to nothing, owing largely to the legal loophole of the infamous "state-secrets" doctrine (still very much in place under Obama). However, rulings in recent months by the European Court of Human Rights have emphasized the illegality under international law of the CIA's program and have sought damages from complicit European governments. As the Guardian noted Tuesday, "among the European participants, Macedonia has been found guilty by the European Court of the illegal imprisonment and torture of a German national. Proceedings are being brought against Poland, Lithuania and Romania after they permitted the CIA to operate secret prisons on their territory. Italy is facing proceedings in the European court over the state's involvement in the abduction of a Muslim cleric, who was kidnapped in Milan and flown to Egypt to be tortured."

Meanwhile, Emmerson stressed that refusal by the U.K. and the U.S. to release classified documents constitutes "a policy of de facto immunity for public officials who engaged in acts of torture, rendition and secret detention, and their superiors and political masters who authorized these acts."

By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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Cia Extraordinary Rendition Human Rights John Brennan Terrorism Torture U.n.