Nation & World

UN torture experts weigh in on disputed Senate CIA interrogation report

Seven top United Nations human rights experts on Wednesday urged President Barack Obama “not to yield” to demands from the Central Intelligence Agency that key material be edited out from a Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA interrogation practices.

In an open letter, the experts called on Obama to release the Senate report “in the most complete and comprehensible form possible, allowing the victims and the public to fully understand the facts.”

“Your decision on this issue will have far-reaching consequences for victims of human rights violations everywhere and for the credibility of the United States,” the letter said. Among the signers were Juan E. Mendez, an Argentinian who is the U.N.’s special rapporteur on torture, and Christof Heyns, a South African who is the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions.

The report is the culmination of a four-year investigation into the CIA’s use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques on prisoners swept up after the 9/11 attacks. The Intelligence Committee voted in April to release the report’s 400-page executive summary – the report itself numbers thousands of pages – but the CIA and the Senate committee are now locked in a dispute over CIA demands that pseudonyms that the report uses for real people be redacted. The CIA claims the pseudonyms would allow people to identify individuals mentioned in the report. Senators say the fictitious names are needed to help readers understand what happened.

The U.N. letter said agreeing to those redactions would not just hide identities but would “obscure patterns that are a crucial element of the system of violations that needs to be fully understood and redressed.”

The experts emphasized that other nations are watching Obama’s actions on the issue closely. “(I)f you yield to the CIA’s demands for continued secrecy on this issue, those resisting accountability will surely misuse this decision to bolster their own agenda in their countries,” the letter said.

On Nov. 12, Mary E. McLeod, the State Department’s acting legal adviser, told a U.N. committee investigating U.S. compliance with the 1984 Convention Against Torture, that the report would be released “with appropriate redactions.” A senior U.S. official said the expectation is the report will be released during the current lame-duck session of Congress.

U.N. anti-torture experts have for years probed U.S. treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, and at so-called black sites that the CIA operated outside the United States. The Senate report reportedly reveals details of that treatment that Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has called shocking.

Obama ordered an end to abusive interrogation techniques when he became president, but his administration has declined to pursue criminal charges against government officials who authorized or took part in the interrogations. In the letter, the U.N. praised Obama’s decision to end the CIA interrogation program.