A leading human rights group said Tuesday that former U.S. President George W. Bush and much of his cabinet should be thoroughly investigated for war crimes.
The 107-page Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, "Getting Away with Torture: The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees," presented evidence that top U.S. officials are likely guilty of authorizing torture.
Along with Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, former CIA Director George Tenet are all suspected of criminal conduct.
Former National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, former Attorney General John Ashcroft and the politically-appointed lawyers who crafted "torture" justifications should also be included in the investigation, according to HRW.
"There is enough strong evidence from the information made public over the past five years to not only suggest these officials authorised and oversaw widespread and serious violations of US and international law, but that they failed to act to stop mistreatment, or punish those responsible after they became aware of serious abuses," the report said.
One such piece of evidence comes from Bush's recent book Decision Points.
"George Tenet asked if he had permission to use enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed," Bush wrote. "'Damn right,' I said."
In the end, the waterboard was used on Mohammed 183 times. Another suspected terrorist, Abu Zubaydah, was waterboarded 83 times.
HRW detailed the mistreatment of detainees at the hands of U.S. interrogators at prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, which included "stress" positions, prolong nudity, sleep and water deprivation, exposure to extreme cold and heat, and being subjected to loud music and total darkness for weeks.
In addition, some detainees at Guantanamo Bay were forced to sit in their own excrement and subjected to sexual humiliation.
Detainees in Iraq also faced beatings, near suffocation, sexual abuse and mock executions. Prisoners in Afghanistan were restrained so that they could not lie down or sleep.
"Detainees were also unlawfully rendered (transferred) to countries such as Syria, Egypt, and Jordan, where they were likely to be tortured," HRW pointed out. "Evidence suggests that torture in such cases was not a regrettable consequence of rendition; it may have been the purpose."
"These abuses across several continents did not result from the acts of individual soldiers or intelligence agents who broke the rules: they resulted from decisions of senior US leaders to bend, ignore, or cast rules aside," the report alleged. "And when illegal interrogation techniques on detainees spread broadly beyond what had been explicitly authorized, these officials turned a blind eye, making no effort to stop the practices."
"There are solid grounds to investigate Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Tenet for authorizing torture and war crimes," HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth said in a statement.
Upon taking office in 2009, President Barack Obama abolished CIA secret prisons, banned the use of torture and promised to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. In doing so, he vowed not to prosecute former Bush administration officials, saying it was a "time for reflection, not retribution."
Late last month, Attorney General Eric Holder dropped what remained of a broader torture probe, and said the Department of Justice would focus only on the deaths of two detainees in CIA custody.
"President Obama has treated torture as an unfortunate policy choice rather than a crime. His decision to end abusive interrogation practices will remain easily reversible unless the legal prohibition against torture is clearly reestablished," Roth said.
On Tuesday, a United Nations official said the U.S. continued to violate international rules by refusing proper access to Bradley Manning, accused of funneling secret documents to WikiLeaks. The official sought to verify claims of torture and said that the U.S. had violated "long-standing rules" meant to prevent detainee abuse.