Those responsible for the "criminal conspiracy" revealed in the report on CIA interrogation techniques must be prosecuted, including senior U.S. government officials who authorized the harsh tactics, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights said Tuesday.
In its report, the Senate Intelligence Committee found that CIA interrogation techniques, employed for days or weeks at a time, never led to "imminent threat" intelligence — the figurative ticking time bomb often cited as justification. In some cases, the means were counterproductive, according to the report.
"It is now time to take action," the U.N. official, Ben Emmerson, said in a statement. "The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today's report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes."
Emmerson said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had a legal duty to bring criminal charges. He noted that the report confirmed what the international community "has long believed — that there was a clear policy orchestrated at a high level within the Bush administration, which allowed to commit systematic crimes and gross violations of international human rights law."
"The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorized at a high level within the U.S. government provides no excuse whatsoever. Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability," he added, noting that international law prohibited granting immunity to public officials who have engaged in acts of torture.
Following the release of the Senate report, the Justice Department issued a statement saying it stood by its decision not to bring any criminal charges against those involved when it conducted its own probe five years ago.
Speaking later Tuesday on msnbc, Holder said he'd ordered "two serious investigations into these matters" starting back in 2009 and had a "very seasoned prosecutor" lead the effort.
"We took them very seriously, extremely seriously," he said. "The person who was responsible for the investigation did, I think, an extremely thorough job."
People were interviewed and grand jury work was done, Holder said, but his team ultimately concluded that they couldn't make a prosecutable case. One of the reasons that determination was made was because the Justice Department had said enhanced interrogation techniques were legal — an opinion that has since been withdrawn, Holder added.
"I can't honestly say that crimes were committed. But I will say this. What we saw in these enhanced interrogation techniques was not consistent with who we are, who we say we are as Americans," he said. "They might have been legal in the strictest sense of the word, but they were immoral."
Other human and civil rights groups echoed the U.N. official's call for prosecutions: Human Rights Watch said torture would remain a "policy option" for future presidents if no one was tried, while the ACLU said "impunity for torture is indefensible" and urged Holder to appoint a special prosecutor.
"In our system, no one should be above the law or beyond its reach, no matter how senior the official," the ACLU said.
The Center for Constitutional Rights also urged prosecutions, saying they "can provide a measure of justice for the survivors and victims of torture and serious mistreatment."