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Human Rights Watch – No More Excuses: A Roadmap to Justice for CIA Torture





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In 2014, the summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) global programme of detention and interrogation was made public, documenting and disclosing the abuse and torture of detainees by U.S. intelligence personnel in Afghanistan as well as other foreign countries. This report examines allegations of criminal offences by US officials and agents in connection with the CIA programme and considers avenues to hold individuals responsible for these crimes accountable. It submits that the US government has not adequately accounted for these abuses and had failed to uphold its obligation under international law to fully investigate and prosecute individuals responsible for serious crimes and to provide redress to victims. In this respect, the report considers that other countries and entities should open their own investigations into CIA torture and should exercise universal jurisdiction, where applicable, over US nationals and others implicated in torture or other abuses.

The report is organised in three sections. The first section examines some of the main criminal charges that could be brought against US officials and intelligence agents involved in the CIA programme before US domestic courts. Human Rights Watch concludes there is substantial evidence to support the opening of new investigations under the Torture Statute and rebuts arguments that barriers to prosecution under US law—such as statutes of limitation, certain defences, or a “specific intent” requirement— might make it impossible to pursue criminal cases. Moreover, it considers that officials of the CIA could face other charges on their own or along with conspiracy, including assault, sexual abuse, murder, and war crimes.  

The second section addresses the US obligation to provide redress to victims of torture, mistreatment and arbitrary detention. The report analyses different reparative measures, including compensation, guarantee of non-repetition, satisfaction and disclosure of relevant information. Furthermore, considering that international law obliges States to provide victims with an effective remedy, including judicial remedy, the report submits that the US should reconsider its position on state secrete privilege with regards to future lawsuits, or at least propose legislation that would provide compensation to victims of CIA torture.

Lastly, the third section deals with international accountability mechanisms, looking at (i) other governments efforts to investigate and prosecute US officials on the basis of universal jurisdiction, and (ii) the preliminary examination of the International Criminal Court (ICC) into the situation in Afghanistan. Investigations initiated outside the U.S. have focused on allegations of abuse in connection with the CIA rendition, detention and interrogation programme and other claims of torture and mistreatment of individuals detained in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly all domestic investigations, which have occurred in Europe, have been closed without proceeding to trial. Accordingly, Human Rights Watch encourages European states to commit to investigate and prosecute offences on the basis of universal jurisdiction, as provided by domestic and international law. Furthermore, the report argues that the ICC may prove to be a path towards some accountability for US abuses committed in Afghanistan and amounting to war crimes.  

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