ACLU Letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft Urging Him to Recuse Himself from the Investigation of Detainee Abuses

Document Date: June 15, 2004

Hon. John Ashcroft
Attorney General
Department of Justice
Washington, DC

Re: Need for special counsel to investigate detainee abuses

Dear Attorney General Ashcroft:

On behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union and its more than 400,000 members, we write to urge you to recuse yourself from the investigation of the mistreatment, including torture, of all detainees held by the United States government who are being held abroad or who are otherwise being detained as ""enemy combatants.""

We urge you to appoint a special counsel to determine the extent of criminal wrongdoing, including violations of federal law prohibiting torture and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, in the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and elsewhere.

The mandate of the special counsel should extend to all prisoners, whether classified as prisoners of war, civilian internees, or ""unlawful combatants,"" and whether held by the Department of Defense, Central Intelligence Agency, or any other agency of the United States government. Likewise, the special counsel's mandate should extend to all officials, whether military personnel, civilian government employees, or private contractors.

Memoranda drafted by top Administration officials between 2002 and 2003 provided justification for disregarding the strictures of the Geneva Conventions and for using certain extraordinary interrogation practices, adopting what the memoranda acknowledge was a controversial, and highly restrictive, definition of torture and outlining possible defenses from criminal prosecution. The memoranda also take the extraordinary position that the President, as Commander-in-Chief, has the authority to disregard the commands of federal criminal laws prohibiting torture if necessary to obtain information from enemy prisoners.

The officials involved in drafting these memoranda and developing the policies include some of the highest level officials in government at the White House, Department of Justice, and Department of Defense. They include, among others, White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez, Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo and special counsel Robert J. Delahunty (DOJ) and William J. Haynes II, DOD general counsel.

These high level officials - many of whom report directly to you or to the President - were directly involved in developing policies that appear to sanction what most experts regard as torture. They were also reportedly involved in approving or finding legal justifications for specific interrogation techniques, including keeping prisoners naked and posing them in sexually humiliating positions, using ""stress positions"" that induced pain, using military dogs to frighten prisoners and other techniques that appear to have led, directly or indirectly, to serious criminal acts at Abu Ghraib and possibly elsewhere.

Under these circumstances, the American people and the nations of the world will not accept that the Administration can credibly investigate itself. The appointment of a special counsel can help assure the world that the President's apology for the Abu Ghraib abuses was a sincere expression of regret for appalling conduct - not a calculated efforts at damage control for appalling images. The failure to appoint a credible, independent investigator will be perceived as part of an attempt to pin the blame for the scandal on a few privates and sergeants, and shield high level Administration officials from responsibility.

Thank you for your consideration of our views. Please let me know of your decision.


Anthony D. Romero
Executive Director

Laura W. Murphy
Director, Washington National Office

Timothy H. Edgar
Legislative Counsel

cc: Members of the House and Senate Committees on the Armed Services and Judiciary

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