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House Judiciary Committee Calls For Torture Accountability

Representative John Conyers (D-Mich.) yesterday called on President Obama to investigate and prosecute Bush officials who authorized torture. Conyers, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, presided over a hearing on “Civil Liberties and National Security.” Conyers noted that President Obama has made some positive steps, such as banning torture and the use of secret “black sites,” but called on the President to investigate those who approved or ordered crimes such as torture and waterboarding.

Representative Conyers noted that such an investigation should include those who were responsible for the decision to authorize torture – including President Bush, who as Conyers noted, “has admitted personally approving these crimes.” In his recent memoir, Decision Points, Bush admits authorizing torture (“damn right”) and suggests that he was justified in doing so because his lawyers told him it was okay – a defense that has been discredited since Nuremberg.

Conyers noted that not only has our government failed to conduct an investigation into torture, it has also worked to “squelch” other countries’ investigations.

The recently released Wikileaks cables revealed that the Bush Administration exerted pressure on the German government to drop planned prosecutions of CIA agents involved in the torture and rendition of a German citizen. As recently as 2009, government officials have interfered with Spanish efforts to prosecute high-ranking Bush officials, including the infamous “torture memo” authors John Yoo and Jay Bybee. The cables indicate that the U.S. warned that continuing with the prosecution would “harm bilateral relations,” and the U.S. Embassy in Madrid interfered with the judicial process by trying to steer the case toward sympathetic magistrates.

Conyers was also critical of the repeated use of the state secrets privilege to block suits involving torture, rendition, and illegal domestic surveillance, preventing many key details about the interrogation and rendition program from being made public.

Other witnesses who testified at the hearing include Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Legislative Office; Bruce Fein, associate deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration; Thomas Pickering, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; Michael Lewis, law professor at Ohio Northern University Pettit School of Law; trial attorney Jamil Jaffer; and Nation reporter Jeremy Scahill.