USA: Amnesty International calls for criminal investigation following CIA ‘waterboarding’ admission

Amnesty International today called for a full, independent and prompt criminal investigation, following the first public admission by CIA Director, General Michael Hayden, that waterboarding had been used by the agency as an interrogation technique against three detainees held in secret custody.

“Waterboarding – where detainees are subjected to simulated drowning – is torture.  Torture is a crime under international law,” said Rob Freer, Amnesty International’s researcher on USA. “Yet, no one has been held accountable for the authorization and use of waterboarding by US personnel.”

At the same congressional hearing, the Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, said that waterboarding could again be used by the CIA in cases approved by the US President and the Attorney General. “This assertion begs the question of who authorised the torture of these three individuals in 2002 and 2003”, said Rob Freer “The President of the USA does not have the authority to order or approve the torture of an individual. No one does. Any criminal investigation must have the power to go right to the top.”

The organization calls for an investigation which goes beyond that initiated by the US Attorney General last month into the destruction by the CIA of videotapes of interrogations, and is fully consistent with international standards.

“It has become clear over recent years that the US administration has interpreted US and international law in ways that have sought to avoid the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment and that have facilitated impunity for human rights violations,” said Rob Freer.

At a hearing of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, General Hayden justified waterboarding as a means of obtaining information from detainees at a time of threat to public safety in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks.

“This attempt to justify these admitted acts of waterboarding flies in the face of the USA’s treaty obligations, including under the UN Convention against Torture,” said Rob Freer.

Amnesty International demands that the USA act to ensure that no information obtained under torture or other ill-treatment, including waterboarding, is admitted in any proceedings, except against the alleged perpetrator of the abuse.

The organization’s concern is heightened given the US administration’s continuing pursuit of military commission trials in Guantánamo. The rules of these military commissions allow the admission of information obtained under coercion, one aspect of their procedures that flouts international law.  

Amnesty International urges the US government to take legislative and other measures to reflect the absolute illegality of the practice of waterboarding and all other forms of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

“The three individuals General Hayden referred to in his statements yesterday, and other detainees, have also made allegations of torture and other ill-treatment using techniques other than waterboarding. Independent investigations must comprehensively examine these allegations. Waterboarding is not the full story,” said Rob Freer.

Background: At a hearing of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in Washington DC, on 5 February 2008, General Hayden said that waterboarding had been used against three detainees – Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri – who had been taken into US custody in 2002 and 2003. The three men were held at secret locations for more than three years before being transferred to the US Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba in September 2006, where they remain in indefinite military detention without charge or trial.

See also:

USA: CIA ‘waterboarding’: Admission of a crime, now there must be a criminal investigation, AI Index: AMR 51/011/2008,

USA: Law and executive disorder: President gives green light to secret detention program, AI Index: AMR 51/135/2007, August 2007,

USA: Slippery slopes and the politics of torture, AI Index: AMR 51/177/2007, 9 November 2007,

USA: Destruction of CIA interrogation tapes may conceal government crimes, 7 December 2007,….