ACLU Urges Congress to Investigate Role of Top State Department Officials in Torture

June 4, 2008 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

Testimony Sought on Role of Rice and Bellinger

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: (202) 675-2312 or media@dcaclu.org

Washington, DC – The American Civil Liberties Union today urged members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Human Rights Subcommittee to use its hearing this morning to start an investigation into the role of current top U.S. Department of State officials in approving the use of torture on detainees. The Department of Justice Inspector General Glenn Fine is scheduled to testify before the subcommittee about the recently released Office of the Inspector General report of the FBI’s role in the interrogation of detainees held by the U.S.

The Inspector General’s report is the first government report to tie Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the high-level discussions on the use of torture, and the first to provide a detailed account of information provided to State Department Legal Adviser John Bellinger on the use of torture at Guantanamo Bay. At the time of the reported discussions, Rice was the White House National Security Advisor, and Bellinger was legal advisor to the National Security Council (NSC). The Inspector General reported that then-Attorney General John Ashcroft had spoken “with someone at NSC, most likely National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice about DOJ’s concerns about the approach DOD was taking in the Al-Qahtani interrogations.” He also reported on extensive interrogation-related discussions involving Bellinger during 2003, including conversations with Justice Department Criminal Division officials who described specific reports of abusive interrogations and concerns about the effect of abuse on any subsequent prosecutions. The report comes on the heels of recent ABC News reports that Rice had a central role in the approval of the use of torture on specific detainees as the chair of the NSC Principals Committee – and that President Bush was aware and approved of the White House meetings.

“Congress should get to the bottom of what role Secretary of State Rice and her top legal advisor John Bellinger played in the torture issue,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The subcommittee should use this hearing to connect the dots and determine whether the nation’s top diplomats had a role in the development or implementation of the Bush administration’s torture program. The president recently admitted that he knew the Rice-chaired National Security Council Principals Committee met to discuss specific interrogation tactics for specific detainees. And now we have the Inspector General reporting that then-National Security Advisor Rice and her counsel Bellinger were receiving complaints from top Justice Department officials about reports of abusive interrogations. Congress needs to figure out what exactly happened, and determine whether the Secretary of State or her counsel authorized the use of torture and whether either one took any steps to try to stop torture.”

This spring, the House Judiciary Committee began the first comprehensive congressional investigation into the authorization of torture at the highest levels of government. The Judiciary Committee will continue its investigation with hearings later this month with top former and current officials. Today’s hearing is an important part of the broader investigation into high-level authorization of torture, because the House Foreign Affairs Committee has oversight over the State Department.

In October 2003, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records concerning the treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody abroad. While more than 100,000 pages of government documents have been released in response to the ACLU’s FOIA lawsuit, the government continues to withhold many vital records and litigation is ongoing. “The Bush administration continues to withhold critical documents – including a presidential order authorizing the CIA’s secret prisons and legal memos authorizing the use of waterboarding and other torture techniques,” said Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. “The administration says that these documents are classified, but it’s clear that they’re being withheld not for legitimate security reasons but in order to shield senior officials from accountability for their decisions. It’s inexcusable that no senior official has been held responsible for the policies that led to abuse and torture.”

“More than four years after the disclosure of torture at Abu Ghraib, the House of Representatives has finally begun an investigation of who was involved in authorizing torture at the very highest levels of government. If crimes were committed at the top levels of the government in the authorization or use of torture and abuse, a few dozen privates and sergeants should not be the only ones held responsible,” said Christopher Anders, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel. “Today is the start of Congress determining what Secretary of State Rice and her counsel knew about the use of torture, and whether either one had a role in its authorization. The inquiry is inexcusably late, but at least it has now begun.”

The ACLU’s letter to Subcommittee Chairman Delahunt regarding today’s hearing is available at: /safefree/torture/35516leg20080603.html

The documents received in the ACLU’s FOIA litigation are online at: www.aclu.org/torturefoia

Sign up to be the first to hear about how to take action.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release