WASHINGTON -- As Attorney General Eric Holder appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee, 13 human rights organizations are urging him to make a clean break from the abusive practices, excessive secrecy and faulty legal reasoning that have marred the United States' reputation as a country that upholds the rule of law. In a letter to Mr. Holder, the organizations called on the attorney general to shine new light on those abuses by releasing the Office of Professional Responsibility's (OPR) report on its investigations into Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) legal advice that authorized abusive interrogations during the post-9/11 period.
"We welcomed your decision to release several OLC memoranda that authorized the use of abusive and illegal interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, forced nakedness, stress positions, and exposure to frigid temperatures. But within the four corners of these legal documents is only a small part of the picture," the letter stated. "By releasing the OPR report, you will demonstrate the administration's continuing commitment to transparency and openness. You will also help strengthen a proper understanding of the important role played by government lawyers serving the United States."
Today, Attorney General Eric Holder is appearing before Senate Judiciary Committee members, many of whom have consistently pressed for the report's release and have been urged by human rights organizations to do so again during this hearing. In the four years since commencement of OPR's investigation of the Bush Administration's OLC, a series of OLC memos released by the Bush and Obama Administrations have shown that the office was a linchpin of the Bush Administration's strategy of creating faulty legal justifications to support a policy of official cruelty and to circumvent the law on humane treatment. These official OLC memos made unprecedented legal claims, ignored highly relevant case law defining and prohibiting torture, and reached clearly erroneous conclusions, including that the President is not necessarily bound by statutes prohibiting torture.
"The American people have a right to know how the U.S. Justice Department came to issue legal opinions approving acts of cruelty that shocked the world, damaged U.S. moral authority and harmed efforts to combat terrorism effectively. OPR began its review of this matter over four years ago. The completion of its final report is long overdue. Requests for release of the OPR report have been met with excessive delay and insufficient explanations. We urge you to release the OPR report now and send a clear message that transparency in government and adherence to the law are core American values as well as key assets to U.S. national security," the letter concludes.
The following groups joined in signing the letter to Mr. Holder: Human Rights First, the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, USA, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas, Human Rights Watch, the International Center for Transitional Justice, the International Justice Network, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, the Open Society Institute, Physicians for Human Rights, and the Rutherford Institute.