Tuesday, 28 April 2009 12:17
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers and Rep Jerrold Nadler, (D-NY), formally requested that Attorney General Eric Holder appoint a special prosecutor to probe and, "where appropriate, prosecute," Bush administration officials responsible for the torture of detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison and Iraq.
In a five-page letter sent to Holder Tuesday, Conyers and Nadler, who chairs the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and 14 of their Democratic colleagues, said the release of four Bush administration "torture"- memos, a Senate Armed Services Committee report on detainee abuse, and a report prepared by the International Red Cross on the treatment of 14 "high-value" detainees in U.S. custody, which the agency concluded "constituted torture," "highlight the need for such an appointment."
"There is abundant, credible evidence of torture and the cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees, and criminal investigation is not only warranted, it is also required,"- the lawmakers wrote. "The Geneva Conventions obligate High Contracting Parties like the United States to investigate and bring before our courts those individuals "alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed" grave breaches of those Conventions.
"The [Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel formally released [two weeks ago] provide additional details regarding the purported legal justifications provided by DOJ lawyers for various interrogation techniques, including the slamming of detainees into walls, the use of stress positions, confinement in boxes, sleep depravation, and waterboarding," Nadler and Conyers wrote.
"The Senate Armed Services inquiry into the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody...confirms that these interrogation practices were developed at the request and authorized by high-ranking [Bush] administration officials, and that the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere can be linked to these policy decisions."-
One of the "torture" memos, dated May 30, 2005, stated that two high-level detainees were waterboarded a combined 266 times in the span of one month.
The formal request for a special prosecutor comes nearly a year after Conyers, Nadler and 54 House Democrats wrote to then Attorney General Michael Mukasey to investigate the growing body of evidence that Bush administration officials had sanctioned torture.
Not unexpectedly, Mukasey--a staunch defender of Bush's theories about expansive presidential powers--ignored the letter. In recent months, however, despite even more evidence of torture and a Democratic administration in place, the calls for a special prosecutor among a majority of Democrats had grown muted.
Conyers, however, has quietly been seeking such an appointment since January. But he has not made a formal request until now. In a final report on Bush's broad "war on terror" powers the Michigan Democrat released on April 2, he called on Holder to "appoint a Special Counsel to determine whether there were criminal violations committed pursuant to Bush Administration policies that were undertaken under unreviewable war powers, including enhanced interrogation, extraordinary rendition, and warrantless domestic surveillance."
"In this regard, the report firmly rejects the notion that we should move on from these matters,"- Conyers's report said. Much of the information in the letter to Holder was culled from Conyers's report.
A Department of Justice spokesperson did not return calls for comment, but in recent weeks the agency has been considering a proposal contained in Conyers's report that called for extending a special prosecutor's probe into the destruction of 92 interrogation videotapes, legal sources said.
U.S. Attorney John Durham, who was appointed by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey last year to investigate the destruction of the CIA's torture tapes had only been given the authority to probe whether the destruction of the tapes amounted to criminal violations.
Conyers had asked Mukasey to expand the probe of the tape destruction and allow Durham to investigate whether techniques depicted on the tapes, such as waterboarding, "constituted violations of federal law." But Mukasey turned down Conyers request.
The torture issue is bound to heat up in the weeks ahead as the Department of Defense is set to release dozens of photographs next month showing Iraq prisoners being abused by U.S. military personnel. Additionally, a report from the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility that is said to be sharply critical of the legal work that went into the preparation of the "torture" memos is scheduled to be released in the weeks ahead.
Last Thursday, civil liberties groups presented Holder with a petition signed by 250,000 people demanding he appoint a special prosecutor to further probe the policy of torture enacted by the Bush administration.