A UN human rights watchdog called on the US on Thursday to release a report on a Bush-era interrogation program at the heart of a dispute between the CIA and a Senate panel.
Critics, including experts on the UN civil and political rights panel, say the CIA program set up after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the US included harsh interrogation methods that constituted torture banned by international law.
The UN Human Rights Committee on Thursday began a two-day examination of the US record, its first scrutiny since 2006, attended by nearly 80 activist groups.
“It would appear that a Senator Dianne Feinstein claims that the computers of the Senate have been hacked into in the context of this investigation,” Victor Manuel Rodriguez-Rescia, a committee member from Costa Rica, told the US delegation.
“In the light of this, we would like hear a commitment that this report will be disclosed, will be made public and therefore be declassified so that we the committee can really analyze what follow-up you have given to these hearings,” he said.
Senate Intelligence Committee chair Feinstein said on Monday that the CIA may have broken the law by spying on Congress, searching computers used by staffers researching operations, including the use of simulated drowning or waterboarding.
CIA Director John Brennan denied the agency had engaged in such spying activities on the Senate committee.
A key issue is how the Senate committee acquired what Feinstein and others describe as the CIA’s own internal review of its interrogation tactics and secret prisons, and its use of “rendition,” a practice by which prisoners are transferred between countries without formal judicial process.
Activists welcomed the watchdog’s efforts to shine a light on what they say was an illegal program under former US president George W. Bush that included waterboarding.
US President Barack Obama’s administration has disowned and condemned such methods.
“There is no reason to keep the program secret other than to protect people involved in illegal conduct,” Andrea Prasow of Human Rights Watch said after the session.
The UN panel, composed of 18 independent experts, examines compliance with a landmark international treaty on civil and political rights ratified by the US.
Members grilled the US delegation on a range of issues and urged Washington to reverse its view that the pact does not apply to US facilities or officials holding suspects abroad in the context of the US-led “war on terror,” including at Guantanamo Bay.
They voiced deep concerns about allegations of police brutality, racial discrimination and profiling, the death penalty, access for undocumented migrants to health care and civilian casualties caused by US drones in the Middle East.
“We have taken many steps to prevent torture, cruel and degrading punishment in connection with our activities outside of the United States,” said Mary McLeod, principal deputy legal adviser at the US Department of State, who leads the US delegation.
Under US law, all US officials are banned from using torture and the government conducts prompt and independent investigations into allegations of mistreatment, she said.
Committee chair Nigel Rodley, a British law professor and former UN investigator on torture, suggested that lawyers in the Bush administration who drew up memorandums justifying the use of harsh interrogation techniques could also be liable.