During the Bush administration, many hundreds of people were tortured and abused by the CIA and Department of Defense, primarily in Afghanistan, Guantánamo, and Iraq, but also in other countries after unlawful rendition. Our government's embrace of torture shattered lives, shredded our nation's reputation in the world, and compromised our national security. Yet, to date, there has been little accountability for these wrongs.
In January 2009, shortly after entering office, President Obama took important steps to dismantle the torture program. But in the following years, his administration undermined that early promise by thwarting accountability for torture.
Accountability for torture is a moral, legal, and national security imperative.
With the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee's summary of its landmark investigation into the CIA's use of torture, the United States has a critical opportunity to change course. By taking steps in the five key areas described below, the Obama administration can begin to redress the abuses perpetrated in our names and help ensure that the United States never tortures again.
Appoint a Special Prosecutor
The attorney general should appoint a special prosecutor with full authority to conduct an independent and complete examination of the previous administration's torture program, including the role played by the senior officials most responsible for it and by those who tried to cover up crimes.
The special prosecutor must also conduct a full investigation into the cover-up of any crimes by CIA personnel or contractors—including the infiltration by CIA staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee's computer system.
If there is sufficient evidence of criminal conduct, the offenders should be prosecuted. The U.S. government must also cooperate with pending investigations and legal actions concerning the torture program.
Reform the CIA
By taking two key steps, Congress and the president can ensure that the CIA never again engages in torture or unlawful detention.
First, Congress must permanently ban the CIA from operating any detention facility or holding any person in its custody. Second, Congress should subject the CIA to the same interrogation rules that apply to the military.
For at least a dozen years, the CIA has been uncontrolled—and seemingly uncontrollable—by any of the three branches of government. Congress and the president must together repair the broken system of checks and balances that has left the CIA virtually unrestrained.
Provide Apology and Compensation
President Obama should publicly acknowledge and apologize to the victims of U.S. torture policies.
To comply with international law, the Obama administration should appoint an independent body to provide compensation and rehabilitation services to those who suffered torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.
Recognizing, apologizing to, and compensating victims will begin to heal the wounds our government has inflicted and help rebuild American credibility as a defender of human rights.
President Obama should formally honor the members of the military, the CIA, and other public servants who, when our nation went off course, stayed true to our most fundamental ideals.
Even as top Bush administration officials were crafting and implementing torture policies, an untold number of U.S. service members and civilian officials risked their careers by objecting to official torture and other cruelty.
A public acknowledgement from the president would send a clear message to other government officials that standing against injustice and unlawful acts is honorable.
The Obama administration should release still-secret records that would shed further light on the extent of U.S. government abuse, and on the responsibility of senior officials in ordering it.
To start, the Obama administration should release the Senate Intelligence Committee's full investigative report into the use of torture and abuse by the CIA.
It should also release President Bush's September 17, 2001 memo authorizing the CIA to establish secret overseas prisons, known as "black sites"; CIA cables relating to the use of waterboarding and other brutal interrogation techniques; and photographs evidencing abuse of prisoners at detention facilities throughout Iraq and Afghanistan.
Accountability for Torture Today is Critical for Stopping it Tomorrow
We can’t undo the damage that was done, but we can declare today that it won’t stand unexamined. Ask Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor.
The Senate Torture Report
The executive summary, findings, and conclusion of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s landmark torture report.
Parsing the Torture Report
Analysis and commentary on the Senate torture report and the way forward, from ACLU experts.
Blueprint for Accountability
The release of the Senate torture report offers a critical opportunity for the U.S. to provide long-overdue accountability for the Bush administration's illegal torture program.
The Torture Architects
This graphic diagrams the participation of high-level officials who conceived of, crafted, and approved the torture program - and who have almost entirely escaped accountability.
Why a Criminal Investigation is Necessary
Attorney General Eric Holder should appoint a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute crimes relating to the torture program.
Complicity and Accountability
More than 50 countries allowed the CIA to abduct people from their soil, use their airports and airspace, or establish secret prisons where prisoners were tortured.
If your only option is pardoning the torturers, you know something is terribly wrong. Op-Ed by ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero in the New York Times.
The Torture Database
The Torture Database contains over 100,000 pages of government documents chronicling the torture program, obtained primarily through FOIA requests filed by the ACLU.