ACLU Letter to President George W. Bush Urging the Establishment of an Independent, Bipartisan Commission to Investigate the Mistreatment of Detainees

Document Date: June 15, 2004

President George W. Bush
The White House
Washington, DC

Re: Need for independent commission to investigate detainee treatment

Dear President Bush:

On behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union and its more than 400,000 members, we write to urge you to work with Congressional leaders to establish a truly independent, bipartisan commission to investigate 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.""

A bipartisan, independent commission is needed to review current policy regarding application of the Geneva Conventions to detainees, the use of torture, ""stress and duress"" or other coercive methods of interrogation for detainees, and should be charged with recommending reforms of these policies in light of the serious criminal abuses that have occurred.

The independent commission's investigation should extend to the treatment of 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, its policy recommendations 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 you, as Commander-in-Chief, have the authority to disregard the commands of federal criminal laws prohibiting torture if necessary to obtain information from enemy prisoners. All such memoranda, if not already in the public domain, should be provided to the appropriate congressional committees immediately.

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, the Secretary of Defense, or the Attorney General - 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 an independent commission can help assure the world that your 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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