Group Denounces DOJ’s Inaction Nine Months After Torture Report

Amnesty International is demanding the Justice Department inspector general examine why officials have failed in their legal obligation to investigate human rights violations, nine months after the release of the Senate torture report.

Photo: David Burnett/Newsmakers/Getty Images

Confronted with a slew of new facts nine months ago, including how the CIA rammed food up detainees’ rectums and threatened to sexually assault their family members, the Justice Department has done nothing.

In a furious letter to DOJ’s inspector general, Amnesty International USA on Tuesday slammed the department for failing in its legal obligation to investigate, review, and address human rights violations, particularly after the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence published the executive summary of its investigation into the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.

“The effect, if not the purpose, of the Justice Department’s action or inaction has been to evade public accountability and conceal its institutional failures,” wrote Naureen Shah, director of the group’s Security with Human Rights division.

Shah requested that the inspector general launch a formal investigation into the department’s decision-making process.

The Department of Justice has the ability to access the entire 6,300-page Senate report, only a small, redacted fraction of which has been declassified and released to the public. But it’s not clear that prosecutors have actually read it. And they certainly haven’t mounted any new criminal investigations or charged anyone with a crime.

The summary alone, however, “includes significant new information relating to the commission of serious federal crimes, including torture, homicide, conspiracy, and sexual assault,” wrote Shah.

So Amnesty International concludes that either the department is shirking its duty to investigate new information under several international law standards — or it already knew about everything in the report and simply chose not to do anything about it.

“If that is the case,” Shah wrote, “then its failure to conduct a criminal investigation beyond two cases involving deaths in custody or to bring any criminal charges in any case raises the concern that it did not regard the CIA’s activities as unlawful, when they unequivocally were.”

The Justice Department conducted investigations into two cases in 2009, which were closed in 2012 without any charges. Then-attorney general Eric Holder announced that DOJ would “not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel regarding the interrogation of detainees.”

But even by that standard, the Senate report details many cases that deserve investigation, argues Shah. The letter summarizes the new information in the report under these headings:

  1. The Senate reviewed the treatment of at least 18 individuals apparently not reviewed by the Justice Department.
  2. The summary provides examples of “unauthorized” techniques used in the CIA program that amount to torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
  3. The Senate report summary describes CIA use of “authorized techniques” in ways that are inconsistent with the Justice Department’s legal advice or its representations to the Justice Department.
  4. The Senate Committee summary describes CIA activities that were not only unlawful, but also apparently not authorized by CIA headquarters with regard to the particular detainees at the time they were inflicted. It finds that under a conservative estimate, “at least 17 detainees were subjected to CIA enhanced interrogation techniques without authorization from CIA headquarters.”
  5. The Senate report summary provides numerous details of abuses that were previously unknown to the public and which are “harsher than the CIA had represented to policymakers and others.”
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