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Group urges probe into alleged Bush-era torture

A U.S.-based human rights group has called on the federal government to investigate allegations of detainee abuse authorized by former President George W. Bush and other senior officials going back to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

In a 107-page report issued Tuesday titled "Getting Away with Torture: The Bush Administration and the Mistreatment of Detainees," Human Rights Watch said that such an investigation should examine the roles of the former president, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld and CIA Director George Tenet.

The group claims Mr. Bush had the ultimate power on detainee operations and that he publicly approved the CIA's use of torture; Cheney was the "driving force" in establishing legal justifications for the detention policies; Rumsfeld approved the interrogation methods that involved torture; and Tenet sanctioned the CIA's use of waterboarding and other forms of torture.

The group also said in the report that the Bush administration endorsed interrogation practices by the CIA that would qualify as torture; created an illegal clandestine CIA detention program in which prisoners were detained in secret location without informing their families or allowing access to the International Red Cross; and that the detainees were illegally sent to other countries such as Egypt and Syria where they would most likely be tortured.

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Human Rights Watch also said there are many classified documents on detention and interrogation policies--among them a presidential authorization of secret prisons and CIA inspector general records--that could bolster a case for a criminal investigation.

It added that the government's disregard for human rights following Sept. 11 has "diminished the US' moral standing, set a negative example for other governments, and undermined US government efforts to reduce anti-American militancy around the world."

The report also recommended to President Barack Obama that he should authorize the attorney general to launch a criminal investigation in the detention practices and examine U.S. officials' roles regarding torture. It also asked Congress to create a non-partisan commission to investigate detainee mistreatment, and that foreign governments should have the power to prosecute American officials who were allegedly involved in crimes against detainees in violation of international law.

While the report acknowledged that President Obama has abolished secret CIA prisons and the use of torture upon taking office in 2009, it also noted that other measures have yet to be implemented, such as the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention center and indefinite detention without trial.

"President Obama has treated torture as an unfortunate policy choice rather than a crime," said Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth in a press release. "His decision to end abusive interrogation practices will remain easily reversible unless the legal prohibition against torture is clearly reestablished."

At a 2009 press conference, President Obama was asked if the Bush administration had sanctioned torture. He called waterboarding a violation of ideals and values. "I do believe that it is torture," he said. "That's why I put an end to these practices. I am absolutely convinced it was the right thing to do, not because there might not have been information that was yielded by these various detainees who were subjected to this treatment, but because we could have gotten this information in other ways...that were consistent with our values."

Attorney General Eric Holder had indicated that the investigation on the Bush administration's torture policies was open-ended. "We're going to follow the evidence wherever it takes us," he told reporters in 2009. "No one is above the law."

Most recently, however, the Justice Department announced it was closing the book on cases involving 100 detainees from the last 10 years, The New York Times reported. Holder said that a two-year review had concluded that an continued investigation in those cases "is not warranted." That was welcomed news by then- outgoing CIA director Leon Panetta, who said "we are now finally about to close this chapter of our agency's history."

During his confirmation hearing last month for the top CIA post, Army Gen. David Petraeus spoke of his support for following the interrogation techniques mentioned in the U.S. Army Field Manuel. However, he did indicate that there could be a time when interrogators may need to employ methods outside normal techniques. "I think there should be discussion of that by policymakers and by Congress," Petraeus said. "I think that it should be thought out ahead of time."