This document also reiterates Amnesty International's call, first made in May 2004, for the US authorities to establish a comprehensive independent commission of inquiry into the USA's detention policies and practices since 11 September 2001, including the programs of rendition and secret detention operated largely by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).7If and when the inquiry concludes that particular conduct may have amounted to crimes under national or international law not known to be already under investigation, the information gathered should be referred to the appropriate federal authorities with a view to possible prosecution of the individual or individuals concerned. The establishment and operation of the commission, however, must not be used to block or delay the prosecution of any individuals against whom there is already sufficient evidence of wrongdoing.
This document also addresses the need to ensure redress and remedy for victims of human rights violations, outlining the basic requirements of restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.
Why look back?
But why dig over the past, some may ask. At a time of political transition and promise of change, would not investigations and prosecutions be unnecessarily divisive? Surely what matters now are future policies and current security, not past conduct? Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld took such a line two years after the Abu Ghraib torture revelations, when a congressional committee was seeking documents from him as part of a probe into the abuses. He said: "I can't imagine, frankly, why the people want to go back over those things at this stage."8 It is difficult to imagine a more appropriate response than that given by retired US Army Major General Antonio Taguba, who led a military investigation in 2004 into detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib. In the preface to a 2008 report on abuse of detainees in US custody in Afghanistan, Guantánamo and Iraq, Major General Taguba wrote:
"Our national honor is stained by the indignity and inhumane treatment these men received from their captors... After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account. The former detainees in this report, each of whom is fighting a lonely and difficult battle to rebuild his life, require reparations for what they endured, comprehensive psycho-social and medical assistance, and even an official apology from our government. But most of all, these men deserve justice as required under the tenets of international law and the United States Constitution. And so do the American people."9