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Report Calls For Investigation Into CIA's Post-9/11 Interrogation Program

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Nearly a year ago, a Senate Intelligence Committee report about the CIA's harsh interrogation techniques concluded that torture doesn't work. Well, today, a report from the advocacy group Human Rights Watch says there is plenty of evidence to order the prosecution of those behind the interrogations. NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Human Rights Watch titles its report "No More Excuses: A Roadmap To Justice For CIA Torture." Kenneth Roth is the group's executive director. This country, he says, has allowed impunity and set a very bad example for the rest of the world.

KENNETH ROTH: How can the United States credibly tell officials elsewhere to subject themselves to the rule of law if they won't apply that same rule at home?

WELNA: Roth says the Obama administration has done only one investigation into torture allegations. It looked at whether some interrogators went beyond what they were authorized to do. Just two men were investigated; neither was charged.

ROTH: Apart from that very narrow, limited investigation, there has been no criminal investigation - let alone prosecution - of anybody who ordered, authorized or carried out torture.

WELNA: Not that any such inquiry was expected. Just days before his first inauguration, a President-elect Obama told ABC's George Stephanopoulos he did not want people at the CIA having to spend their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering up.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARACK OBAMA: Obviously, we're going to be looking at past practices, and I don't believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.

WELNA: Indeed, the day California Democrat Dianne Feinstein released the summary of what's widely known as the torture report, the then-chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee did not seem inclined to look backwards.

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DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Releasing this report is an important step to restore our values and show the world that we are in fact a just and lawful society.

WELNA: Since then, not a word of the full 6700-page report has been declassified or made public. The intelligence panel is now chaired by North Carolina Republican Richard Burr, who wants all existing copies of the full report returned to his committee.

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RICHARD BURR: I don't believe it should be public because it's not written with the intent of it being public.

WELNA: Human Rights Watch's Roth says even though President Obama has from the start forbidden torture, there's a real danger in not fully disclosing what happened during the CIA's interrogations and prosecuting any wrongdoing.

ROTH: Inevitably, some future president is going to feel tempted to do the same thing that the Bush administration did, which is to resort to torture.

WELNA: Just last week in Columbus, Ohio, Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump made clear his own intentions.

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DONALD TRUMP: Would I approve waterboarding? You bet your [expletive] I'd approve it. You bet your [expletive]...

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: ...In a heartbeat.

WELNA: Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch is demanding the appointment of a special prosecutor to carry out a criminal investigation of torture allegations. It's also calling for compensation to victims of torture. Both are required by the convention against torture. It's been the law of the land for more than two decades. Roth says talks with White House officials suggest some action may still be taken.

ROTH: Our informal conversations with them suggest that this is not, you know, beyond the pale - I mean that they are beginning to think perhaps a little bit differently than they have in the past.

WELNA: A Justice Department spokesman said his agency was aware of the rights group's report and was reviewing it. David Welna, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.