By Tom Parker | Human Rights Now Blog
It’s clear to us that the torture memos released yesterday, as gruesome and
repugnant the details are within, are only the tip of the iceberg.
As far as we currently know, the interrogation regime spelled out in the
Bybee memo is the best case scenario for how detainees were treated. Amnesty
International has been interviewing the victims of torture for almost fifty
years and our experience teaches us that abuse nearly always escalates
over time. It starts with roughing people up at 3am and ends with naked
people piled up in pyramids.
All that we know is based on leaked reports, on a handful of interviews, and
some pictures no one wanted us to see. What about the hundreds of other
detainees, civilian and military staff who worked at these torture facilities?
What other files and images exist? Why would the CIA destroy mountains
of tapes and who knows what else?
Because as awful as the images from Abu Ghraib, as vile as the techniques
outlined in the torture memos, there is so much more that we still do not
That’s why we were relieved that at least President Obama made good on his
promise for a more transparent government by releasing the memos. This is an
important distinction from other nations who practice torture. If what Bush and
Cheney did was immeasurably damage our nation’s system of values and
credibility, Obama took the first, critical step to repairing that damage by
releasing the memos.
But we will not know the truth of what has been done in our name until a
thorough, independent investigation has been conducted. It is clear from the
Attorney General’s comments that the government cannot be trusted to do this
alone. We’ve done plenty of reflecting, and it’s now time to act like a true
democracy, built on the rule of law. Laws mean nothing if they are not enforced.
Go to any prison or jail in the United States, and you will find countless
unsympathetic criminals: rapists, murderers, even domesticterrorists. Imagine
telling an American police officer to treat these criminals in the manner
outlined by the torture memos. What would they do? Would they blindly follow the
command to do what they knew was wrong, both morally but also legally? The vast
majority would not. Our agents in Iraq, Afghanistan and the other black
sites knew better too.
The CIA officers in the field knew what they wanted to do was wrong which is
precisely why they sought legal cover from the Office of Legal Council.
They lawyered up. Jay Bybee, John Yoo and Steven Bradbury knew
they were ignoring decades of jurisprudence in drafting their
memos. This is not a good faith misunderstanding, this was a coldblooded
decision to torture prisoners in American custody.
Laws have been broken and fundamental human rights have been abused. We have
a responsibility to ourselves, to our nation and to the international community
to show that this was wrong and that such a deviation from the values on which
America was built shall not go unpunished.
Read the Opposing Views debate, Is Torture Ever Justified?