BY SPENCER ACKERMAN 03.05.13 11:20 AM
As his inquiry into U.S. drone strikes gets underway, the United Nations special rapporteur for counterterrorism and human rights has stepped up his rhetoric against the agency he’ll inevitably investigate. The CIA’s torture program was at the center of an “international conspiracy of crime,” he told a U.N. panel on Tuesday.The CIA’s torture in the last decade is unrelated from its current drone campaign. But Ben Emmerson, the U.N. rapporteur, will still need access to the drones from a CIA he portrayed on Tuesday morning as something similar to a Bond villain. In an interview with Danger Room last month, Emmerson said he was confident the Obama administration would grant him access to one of its most secretive counterterrorism programs.
The extent of international cooperation with the CIA’s torture, detention and rendition regime during the past decade was the focus of a recent Open Society Institute report. The Open Society Institute found last month that over 50 nations in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa aided the CIA in holding suspected al-Qaida members, including people ultimately found to be innocent, in brutal conditions. A former Bush administration State Department official, Philip Zelikow, told his then-colleagues in 2006 that the CIA torture amounted to a “felony war crime.”
Emmerson, speaking to the U.N. Human Rights Council, called on the Senate intelligence committee to promptly declassify an extensive inquiry of its own into CIA torture. He said he was “concerned” that the Obama administration has declined to prosecute anyone for authorizing or inflicting torture, warning that such “impunity” undermined western calls for entrenching democratic norms in the Middle East and North Africa.
“It will also take time for the Western democracies to restore the confidence that was shattered among Muslim communities by the CIA policy of secret detention, rendition and torture, and the decade of impunity that has followed,” Emmerson told the panel.
The man most likely to deal with Emmerson on drones, White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan, is likely to have to reckon with torture as well. Senators have stalled John Brennan’s nomination to lead the CIA for reasons including Brennan’s views on torture, which he publicly condemned and repudiated during his confirmation hearing last month. A vote on Brennan’s nomination — which Emmerson has endorsed — could come as early as Tuesday in the Senate intelligence committee. That might set up a frank talk at a later date between Brennan and Emmerson.