National Security Brief: Pressure Mounts On Obama To Investigate Torture

Pressure is mounting on the Obama administration to allow access to documents pertaining to the CIA’s post 9/11 terror suspect detention program and to order a full accounting of the Bush-era torture program. At the outset of his first term, President Obama said his administration would not be investigating torture because, he said, he wanted to “look forward, not backward.”

A bipartisan 11-member task force convened by the Constitution Project released a report on Tuesday concluding that the Bush administration’s interrogation polices after 9/11 were, in fact, torture, but it also criticized the Obama White House for blocking a formal investigation into the matter. “As long as the debate continues, so too does the possibility that the United States could again engage in torture,” their report says.

“The Obama administration also has failed to be as open and accountable on such fundamental questions of law, morality and principle as a great power that widely supports human rights needs to be,” Task Force member Thomas Pickering wrote in the Washington Post on Tuesday.

An editorial in the New York Times on Wednesday piled on. “The report’s appearance all these years later is a reminder of the lost opportunity for a full accounting in 2009 when President Obama chose not to support a national commission to investigate the post-9/11 detention and interrogation programs,” the Times writes, adding, “[I]dentifying past mistakes so they can be avoided is central to looking forward.”

And the Huffington Post’s Dan Froomkin notes that the United States is obligated under international law to investigate:

[Ignoring the Bush-era torture program] actually violates the U.S.’s legal obligations under the international Convention Against Torture, which requires each country to “[c]riminalize all acts of torture, attempts to commit torture, or complicity or participation in torture,” and “proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction.”

Pickering says the Obama administration should declassify all relevant documents as soon as possible and work with Congress to “close the loopholes that allowed torture to occur under a pretense of legality.”

“Democracy and torture cannot peacefully coexist in the same body politic,” Pickering writes, adding that not accounting for human rights abuses diminishes American’s standing in the world: “Successful human rights diplomacy and torture can’t either.”

In other news:

  • The New York Times reports: Military officials on Tuesday described prison conditions here in the weeks leading up to a raid Saturday as chaotic, with detainees breaking rules with impunity, blocking cameras and windows, shouting at guards, splashing them with urine and poking sticks at them through the fencing. They said prisoners refused to go into their cells and shut their doors for a daily two-hour lockdown, and it was deemed too dangerous for guards to enter the common area to remove a troublemaker when many prisoners were freely roaming.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports: The White House threatened Tuesday to veto a cybersecurity bill about to be debated in the House. … The Obama administration is “concerned that the bill does not require private entities to take reasonable steps to remove irrelevant personal information when sending cybersecurity data to the government or other private sector entities,” the White House said in a statement, adding that the administration is committed to finding “a workable solution.”
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