Amid grassroots pressure to hold senior Bush administration officials accountable for torture and other crimes, an influential Democratic senator said President Barack Obama and Congress have no choice but to mount a serious investigation because to do nothing would invite a repetition of the abuses.
"We need to follow this thing into those dense weeds and shine a bright light into what was done,"- Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, said in a speech at Brown University on Saturday. "We can paper it over if we choose, but the blueprint is still lying there for others to do it all over again. It's important that we not let this moment pass."
Whitehouse's remarks were made at two-day medical conference sponsored by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), which has called for an investigation into the Bush administration's use of interrogation techniques that have been widely regarded as torture.
President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney both admitted publicly last year they had personally authorized the waterboarding of at least three suspected terrorists and allowed interrogators to use harsh methods against 33 other suspects. However, Bush and Cheney denied that these actions violated anti-torture laws.
Waterboarding is a technique that makes the victim believe he is drowning and has been regarded as torture at least since the Spanish Inquisition. The U.S. government has treated its use in battlefield interrogations as a war crime, and Whitehouse noted that the Justice Department prosecuted a Texas sheriff in the 1980s for using waterboarding to extract confessions from suspects.
Incoming Attorney General Eric Holder said during his confirmation hearing earlier this month that "waterboarding is torture,"- but the Obama administration has hesitated to launch new investigations of the Bush administration's crimes partly out of fear that would infuriate Republicans who might retaliate by obstructing Democratic economic plans during a deepening recession.
In a column published Monday on the Huffington Post, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers said an examination of what the Bush administration has done requires a comprehensive overview of how these abusive policies evolved.
"While disparate investigations by committees of Congress, private organizations and the press have uncovered many important facts, no single investigation has had access to the full range of information regarding the Bush administration's interrelated programs on surveillance, detention, interrogation and rendition,"- Conyers wrote.
"The existence of a substantially developed factual record will simplify the work to come, but cannot replace it. Furthermore, much of this information, such as the Central Intelligence Agency's 2004 Inspector General report on interrogation, remains highly classified and hidden from the American people. An independent review is needed to determine the maximum information that can be publicly released."-
At the conference on Saturday, Whitehouse, a former federal prosecutor, said it's crucial that the Obama administration confront Bush's torture policies early, with an eye toward holding individuals accountable for violating federal and international laws.
"The U.S. government took part in inhumane, brutal interrogation techniques that were torture,"- Whitehouse said. "The question is, what does it mean when a country as a whole heads down a road like this? It is an important story to tell to understand the way democracy works."-
Whitehouse also rejected the Bush administration's claim that officials are innocent because they had approval from Justice Department lawyers who adopted a novel and narrow definition of torture. Whitehouse said that simply having in-house lawyers fix the law around a policy does not make it legal.
A year ago, Whitehouse and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, wrote a letter to the Justice Department's watchdog agency requesting an investigation into the role "Justice Department officials [played] in authorizing and/or overseeing the use of waterboarding by the Central Intelligence Agency... and whether those who authorized it violated the law."-
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