Dear Stephen and George,
I continue to be alarmed by revelations regarding torture and abuse in U.S. facilities. The recently released photos from Abu Ghraib reinforce the image of America as a nation that condones torture - but it has come to my attention that the problem is far greater in scope than these particular abuses.
In Human Rights First's new report on deaths in U.S. custody, "Command's Responsibility," the organization found that only 12 detainee deaths have resulted in punishment - out of 34 cases ruled to be homicide. And the organization finds that there may be 11 additional cases of unjustified homicide.
Why have no higher-level officials been charged with a crime? Commanders must be held liable for any unlawful acts of their subordinates about which they knew or should have known.
I ask you, as Commander in Chief, to develop and implement a zero-tolerance policy for commanders who fail to provide clear guidance to their subordinates, and who allow unlawful conduct to persist on their watch. The key elements of such a policy include the following:
- Move immediately to fully implement the ban on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment passed overwhelmingly by the U.S. Congress and signed into law on December 30, 2005. Full implementation requires first and foremost that you clarify your commitment to abide by the ban.
- Instruct all relevant military and intelligence agencies involved in detention and interrogation operations to review and revise internal rules and legal guidance to make sure they are in line with the McCain statutory mandate and existing constitutional and treaty obligations. Issue regular reminders to commanders that abuse will not be tolerated, and ask that commanders regularly give troops the same, serious message.
- The Defense Department, CIA and other relevant agencies should evaluate and update training for all U.S. officials engaged in human intelligence and detention operations to ensure they have a full practical understanding of the implications of the bans on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment - and the consequences of violating them.
- The Departments of Defense and Justice should move forward promptly with long-pending actions against those involved in cases of wrongful detainee death or abuse, and state the basis of decisions not to prosecute.
- The U.S. military should make good on the obligation of command responsibility by developing, in consultation with congressional, military justice, human rights, and other advisors, a public plan for holding all those who engage in wrongdoing accountable.
The United States will not be successful at ending torture and abuse until it has an established system designed to prevent abuse before it happens, punish it when it does, and deter any who might think it is possible to get away with abuse.