WASHINGTON — The nation’s pre-eminent civil rights organization ACLU on Thursday slammed President Obama for shielding the Bush administration from accountability for its “dangerous torture policy,” and insisted that this “lack of transparency” severely threatens the future of constitutional liberty in the United States.
“The Bush administration constructed a legal framework for torture,” Jameel Jaffer, Director of ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a conference call with reporters. “Now the Obama administration is constructing a legal framework for impunity.”
While he credited Obama for having disavowed torture under his watch, Jaffer said that “on every front, the administration is actively obstructing accountability by shielding Bush officials from civil liability, criminal investigation and even public scrutiny for their role in authorizing torture.”
“It’s the last month of 2009, and not a single torture victim has had his day in court,” said ACLU Attorney Ben Wizner. “Not a single court in a torture case has ruled on the legality of the Bush administration’s torture policies.”
In response to a question from Raw Story, Jaffer said refusing to prosecute past acts of torture sets “an extremely dangerous precedent” in the legal system. “Torture victims can be denied their day in court solely based on assertions made by their torturers,” he said.
“We still don’t have a definitive binding determination that what went on in the last eight years was illegal,” he added. “And without that kind of determination, it will be all too easy for an unscrupulous lawyer in an unscrupulous future administration to write another memo saying that there is no legal prohibition against monstrous conduct.”
“Torture is not an issue where there should be one person on both sides of the table on Hardball — torture is universally prescribed as clearly illegal.”
The Obama administration has evaded transparency by “seeking to cover up details of enhanced interrogation programs,” said Alex Abdo, ACLU’s attorney for torture FOIA lawsuits, citing the president’s refusal to release photos, memos and documentation that detail instances of torture — largely under the pre-text of state secrets.
“The effect of the Obama administration’s argument across these civil cases is the creation of a sweeping immunity doctrine for torturers,” said Abdo, citing as one example Obama’s defense of torture memo author John Yoo.
“The government can engage in torture, declare it a state secret or a matter of national security, and by virtue of that declaration avoid any accountability for conduct that the entire world and the United States have always recognized as illegal in all instances,” he said.
“We’re frustrated by the growing gap between Obama administration’s rhetoric on accountability and the reality,” Jaffer said.
“I think there is an obvious connection between what the president is saying about the commitment we’ve got to human rights and the work we’re doing here inside the United States to hold people accountable for the violations of both domestic and international law,” Jaffer said, referring to Obama’s acceptance of the Nobel Prize today.
Last week, ACLU Legislative Counsel Michelle Richardson told Raw Story that Obama’s support for key Patriot Act provisions is “a major travesty.”