He also warned Tuesday that perpetrators could be prosecuted anywhere in the world, noting that “torture is a crime of universal jurisdiction.”
Meanwhile the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said the Senate Intelligence Committee’s release of a declassified portion of a report on CIA interrogation and detention programs was insufficient, calling for the full 6,000 page report to be released, and for “accountability” for those who overstepped the mark.
In a statement issued in Geneva, Ben Emmerson, the U.N.’s “special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights,” called the conduct covered by the committee report a “criminal conspiracy.”
“The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes,” he said.
“The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorized at a high level within the U.S. government provides no excuse whatsoever. Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability,” Emmerson said.
Under international law, he said, those who engaged in acts of torture, as well as senior U.S. government officials “who devised, planned and authorized these crimes,” could not be granted immunity.
Emmerson, a British international human rights lawyer, said CIA officials who carried out excesses could not hide behind the defense that they were following orders, but should be prosecuted.
“However, the heaviest penalties should be reserved for those most seriously implicated in the planning and purported authorization of these crimes,” he added. “Former Bush administration officials who have admitted their involvement in the program should also face criminal prosecution for their acts.”
‘Release the full report’
CAIR in a statement called the Senate committee report “disturbing” and said that “those who approved of and carried out this campaign of torture” should be held accountable.
“It also shows that strong legal and policy measures need to be enacted in order to prevent such illegal actions being taken during any future security crisis,” added the controversial lobby group, which describes itself as “America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization.”
“Torture is not an American value,” CAIR said. “We should not be questioning whether or not it worked, but why we ever used such brutal and illegal interrogation techniques.”
CAIR said it was calling on the Senate panel to “release the full report to ensure full disclosure and transparency of America’s counterterrorism and torture programs.”
The Department of Justice Tuesday reiterated an earlier decision, taken after its own inquiry five years ago, not to bring criminal charges against those accused of using illegal interrogation methods, saying it “stand[s] by our previously announced decision not to initiate criminal charges.”
In 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder referred the issue of whether federal laws had been violated by the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” to veteran special prosecutor John Durham of Connecticut.
Durham subsequently recommended opening full criminal investigations into the deaths of two individuals in U.S. custody overseas, but in 2012 Holder announced he was closing the probe, the department having “declined prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.”
After President George W. Bush in his 2010 memoir said he had personally approved the “waterboarding” – a procedure described as drowning simulation – of senior al-Qaeda terrorist Khalid Sheik Mohammed, there were new calls by U.N. officials, Amnesty International, and others for the former president to be prosecuted.
Khalid Sheik Mohammed masterminded al-Qaeda’s attacks on the U.S. on 9/11. Almost 3,000 people were killed when 19 terrorists seized passenger planes and flew two of them into the World Trade Center in New York City and a third into the Pentagon. A fourth plane went down in rural Pennsylvania after passengers confronted the hijackers.
Bush has said that the interrogation of Khalid Sheik Mohammed “helped save lives on American soil.”
President Obama banned the controversial technique soon after taking office.