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Accountability for Torture At Last?

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Are we to have accountability for torture at last? two new developments give hope that an accountability moment may yet occur.

Rendition Investigation Reopened

In the first development, the Homeland Security Inspector General told Congress he is reopening an investigation into the "extraordinary rendition" of Canadian Maher Arar. Arar, as you may recall, was arrested as he was switching planes en route home from vacation in Switzerland and sent to be tortured in Syria. For the first time a US official admitted that there is evidence that Arar was sent to Syria because it was expected that he would be tortured there.

Skinner's testimony said officials "concluded that Arar was entitled to protection from torture and that returning him to Syria would more likely than not result in his torture."

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The Canadian government acknowledged error, apologized to Arar, and issued reparations. The US government refused to allow him to enter the country to give Congressional testimony.

More information on the Arar case and the IG investigation can be obtained from Scott Horton's posting, which includes his testimony to Congress this week. As Horton summed up his view of the hearings:

The hearing revealed some remarkable facts. First, that Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson made a key finding that facilitated Arar’s shipment to Syria (a determination that it was against U.S. interests for him to be returned to Canada). Second, that the INS had determined that Arar would more likely than not be tortured if he was returned to Syria. Third, that his shipment to Syria, overriding normal procedures, occurred after tremendous pressure had been brought to bear from the office of the Deputy Attorney General.

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The hearing was remarkable in that, although pretty harsh criticism was doled out by Committee members and myself, IGs Skinner and Ervin largely agreed that the criticism was well-founded, that the conduct involved was inexplicable or inexcusable, and that a further investigation was necessary.

Even more amazingly, the entire panel of speakers (including the two IGs) agreed that it would be appropriate for a criminal investigation to be commenced looking into violations of the anti-torture statute by those involved in the case, particularly figures in the Deputy Attorney General’s office.

Congress Members Urge Special Counsel

In the other development, nearly 60 members of Congress have written the Attorney General (aka, Director of Torture Cover-up), requesting that a Special Counsel be appointed to investigate Bush administration involvement in torture. [The letter to Mukasey can be read here.]

In a letter to Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, the lawmakers cited what they said is "mounting evidence" that senior officials personally sanctioned the use of waterboarding and other aggressive tactics against detainees in U.S.-run prisons overseas. An independent investigation is needed to determine whether such actions violated U.S or international law, the letter stated.

Apparently referring to a recent ABC News report that US torture was micromanaged out of the White House by the so-called Principals Committee which included Vice President Richard Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, George Tenet, and Attorney General John Ashcroft with P resident Bush's knowledge and approval:

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[W]ithin the last month additional information has surfaced that suggests the fact that not only did top Administration officials meet in the White House and approve the use of enhanced techniques including waterboarding against detainees, but that President Bush was aware of, and approved of the meetings taking place.

They go on to summarize the implications of the revelations of White house micromanaging of torture:

"This information indicates that the Bush administration may have systematically implemented, from the top down, detainee interrogation policies that constitute torture or otherwise violate the law," it said. The letter was signed by 56 House Democrats, including House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and House Intelligence Committee members Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y).

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Stephen Soldz is psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He is co-founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology and is President of Psychologists for Social Responsibility. He was a psychological consultant on two of (more...)

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