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Prosecution call over US 'torture'


Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein speaks to reporters after releasing a report on the CIA's harsh interrogation techniques (AP)

Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein speaks to reporters after releasing a report on the CIA's harsh interrogation techniques (AP)

Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein speaks to reporters after releasing a report on the CIA's harsh interrogation techniques (AP)

A top United Nations investigator is calling for the prosecution of senior US officials who authorised and carried out torture.

Ben Emmerson, the UN's special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, says all CIA and other US government officials who carried out waterboarding and other torture must also be prosecuted.

A US Senate Intelligence Committee's report has detailed use of the techniques as part of former President George W Bush's national security policies.

In a statement released in Geneva, Mr Emmerson said the report shows "there was a clear policy orchestrated at a high level within the Bush administration, which allowed (it) to commit systematic crimes and gross violations of international human rights law".

He said those responsible for the "criminal conspiracy ... must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes".

Senate investigators have concluded that t he United States brutalised scores of terror suspects with interrogation tactics that turned secret CIA prisons into chambers of suffering and did nothing to make America safer after the September 11 2001 attacks.

The report, years in the making, accused the CIA of misleading its political masters about what it was doing with its "black site" captives and deceiving Americans about the effectiveness of its techniques.

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The report was the first public accounting of tactics employed after the September 11 terrorist attacks and it described far harsher actions than had been widely known.

Tactics included confinement to small boxes, weeks of sleep deprivation, simulated drowning, slapping and slamming, and threats to kill, harm or sexually abuse families of the captives.

President Barack Obama declared some of the past practices to be "brutal, and as I've said before, constituted torture in my mind. And that's not who we are," he told the Spanish-language TV network Telemundo.

Mr Obama added that releasing the information was an important "so that we can account for it, so that people understand precisely why I banned these practices as one of the first acts I took when I came into office, and hopefully make sure that we don't make those mistakes again".

"One of the things that sets us apart from other countries is that when we make mistakes, we admit them," he said.

Then-president Mr Bush approved the programme through a covert finding in 2002, but he was not briefed by the CIA about the details until 2006.

At that time he expressed discomfort with the "image of a detainee, chained to the ceiling, clothed in a nappy and forced to go to the bathroom on himself".

Five hundred pages were released, representing the executive summary and conclusions of a still-classified 6,700-page full investigation.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic committee chairman whose staff prepared the summary, branded the findings a stain on US history.

"Under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured," she declared, commanding the Senate floor for an extended accounting of the techniques identified in the investigation.

In a statement, CIA director John Brennan said the agency made mistakes and has learned from them.

But he also asserted the coercive techniques "did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives".

The report, released after months of negotiations with the administration about what should be censored, was issued as US embassies and military sites worldwide fortified security in case of an anti-American backlash.

The US embassies in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Thailand warned of the potential for anti-American protests and violence after the release of the Senate report. The embassies also advised Americans in the three countries to take appropriate safety precautions, including avoiding demonstrations.

After Navy Seals killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May 2011, top CIA officials secretly told lawmakers that information gleaned from brutal interrogations played a key role.

Then-CIA director Leon Panetta repeated that assertion in public and it found its way into a critically acclaimed movie about the operation, Zero Dark Thirty. It depicts a detainee offering up the identity of bin Laden's courier, Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti, after being tortured at a secret CIA interrogation site.

As it turned out, bin Laden was living in al-Kuwaiti's walled family compound, so tracking the courier was the key to finding the al Qaida leader.

But the CIA's story, like the Hollywood one, is not true, the Senate report concludes in a 14,000-word section of the public summary.

"A review of CIA records found that the initial intelligence obtained, as well as the information the CIA identified as the most critical or the most valuable on Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti, was not related to the use of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques," it says.

CIA officials disagree and maintain that detainees subjected to coercive tactics provided crucial details.

"It is impossible to know in hindsight whether we could have obtained ... the same information that helped us find bin Laden without using enhanced techniques," the agency said in its written response.

Former Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski said that during his term Poland offered the CIA a site for a secret prison but did not authorise the harsh treatment of inmates.

It is the first time a Polish leader has admitted the country hosted a secret CIA site. Reports say it operated from December 2002 until the autumn of 2003.

Mr Kwasniewski was in power from 1995 to 2005. He said the activity in Poland was terminated under pressure from its leaders.

Human Rights Watch's executive director Kenneth Roth said: "Unless this important truth-telling process leads to prosecution of officials, torture will remain a 'policy option' for future presidents."

Mr Emmerson added. "The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorised at a high level within the US government provides no excuse whatsoever. Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability."

He said international law prohibits granting immunity to public officials who allow the use of torture and this applies not just to the perpetrators but also those who plan and authorise it.

As a result, he said, the US government is "legally obliged to bring those responsible to justice".

The head of the CIA during Mr Bush's second term has denied that he lied to Congress about the harsh interrogations.

Retired General Michael Hayden said the intelligence community worked after September 11 2001 to repel further attacks against the US.

He told NBC's Today show that he advocated keeping Congress informed of what the intelligence community was doing. He said his objective "was to get these people to be part of the game".

Asked if Americans have the right to be appalled by the revelations, Mr Hayden said he did not know.

But he added that "it's probably a good thing" the public now knows what efforts the CIA was making on its behalf.

Mr Hayden said: "I don't know that the report that was released yesterday is that historically accurate. It reads like a prosecutorial screed rather than a historical document."

Regarding claims that the CIA's interrogation techniques were harsher than previously disclosed, he said: "It may be more slightly layered in the details, but everyone knows what waterboarding does. It prompts the anti-drowning reflex in an individual."

"I'm sure it's horrible," he said. "But it's also horrible for tens of thousands of American airmen whom we used it against for training."

"I disagree with the fact that you're claiming it to be news," he told interviewer Savannah Guthrie. "These topics and subjects were all out there."

Asked whether he believed CIA officers thought they were carrying out the nation's will, Mr Hayden said: "What's happening now, these folks having the rug pulled out from under them, people who thought they were doing what we wanted them to do. That's unprecedented."

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