Monday 24 July 2017

Outrage as Obama reveals secret Bush 'torture' files

Mexico President Felipe Calderon and US President Barack Obama review an honour guard during an official welcoming ceremony at
the presidential residence, Los Pinos, in Mexico City.
Mexico President Felipe Calderon and US President Barack Obama review an honour guard during an official welcoming ceremony at the presidential residence, Los Pinos, in Mexico City.

Alex Spillius

US President Barack Obama was attacked from all sides yesterday over his decision to declassify four memos detailing CIA interrogation methods approved by George W Bush's administration for use against terrorist suspects.

Former senior Bush officials criticised the president for giving away secrets to terrorists and claimed that the tactics had worked.

Human rights groups took issue with Mr Obama's declaration -- issued alongside the memos -- that agents who had used methods regarded as torture would not be prosecuted.

Amnesty International said: "The US Department of Justice appears to have offered a get-out-of-jail-free card to people involved in torture. Torture is never acceptable and those who conduct it should not escape justice."

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the freedom of information lawsuit in California that left the administration feeling it had no choice but to disclose the memos, wrote an open letter to Eric Holder, the attorney general.

It demanded that he appoint an independent prosecutor "to investigate who knew about and authorised the Bush administration's torture policies" and bring prosecutions if warranted.

Reaction in the Middle East suggested Mr Obama's efforts to build bridges with the Muslim world after Mr Bush's 'war on terror' and conflict in Iraq would be adversely affected.

Abuses

The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights in Cairo said the decision would encourage other nations to let abuses pass.

"Obama told us he will hold to account the people who committed a crime or a human rights violation," the group said. "So this is a wrong signal to the perpetrators of human rights, especially Third World countries."

The memos, written in 2002 and 2005 by lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice, authorised keeping detainees naked, in painful standing positions and in cold cells for long periods of time.

Other techniques including depriving them of food, slapping, sleep deprivation and in one case threatening to put a stinging insect into the confined cell of a senior al-Qa'ida figure after interrogators discovered he was afraid of insects.

There was a legal justification for waterboarding, which simulates drowning. In the latter stages of the Bush era the CIA admitted its use but said it had been stopped. The memos stated the techniques were within US law and were not considered to be torture, because they were not intended to "inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering" that was "prolonged".

According to David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Mr Obama, the president agonised over the decision for a month, and consulted justice officials, the CIA and the Homeland Security department. He concluded that the tactics "undermine our moral authority and do not make us safer".

But two former Bush officials led criticism that disclosure of the techniques would undermine intelligence work in the future.

"Its effect will be to invite the kind of institutional timidity and fear of recrimination that weakened intelligence gathering in the past, and that we came sorely to regret on September 11, 2001," Michael Hayden, the former CIA director, and Michael Mukasey, the former attorney general, wrote in the 'Wall Street Journal'.

They said the release "assures that terrorists are now aware of the absolute limit of what the US government could do to extract information from them, and can supplement their training accordingly and thus diminish the effectiveness of these techniques". (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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