What did Trump’s FBI nominee know of US torture post-9/11?
© Greg Nash

Today Washington’s attention turns to the confirmation hearing of Christopher Wray, nominated by President Trump as FBI Director following the firing of James Comey in that position.

In the inevitable focus on the Russia investigation and Comey firing fallout, Senate Judiciary Committee members would be remiss not to use the opportunity to probe the issue of Wray’s previous role as Assistant Attorney General in President George W. Bush’s Justice Department. What are his past and current views on the use of torture in interrogations?

In the years following 9/11, our government unleashed a program of illegal torture and rendition of suspected enemies.

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Recent efforts to bury the most comprehensive account to date of the U.S. torture program, coupled with Administration appointments of those who played a key role in it, raise sharp concerns about human rights, government transparency and accountability.

 

Wray served in  a Justice Department which sought to justify the use of torture by since-repudiated legal gymnastics. Glimpses from highly-redacted government documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the ACLU indicate that, at the very least, Wray knew about detainee abuse and was involved in discussions about harsh interrogation techniques.

His stance in those conversations remains a mystery, but members of Congress and the American public have a right to a full picture of what happened. Nothing less will prevent a repeat of these mistakes.

Wray is not an outlier among recent appointees who played a role in this dark chapter of American history.

Steven Bradbury, a key enabler of the torture program, was nominated as General Counsel of the Transportation Department. Bradbury has suffered no consequences for his 2007 memo that helped authorize the since-discredited program.

These two nominations follow the February appointment of Gina Haspel as Deputy Director of the CIA; who, according to multiple reports, personally oversaw the use of torture at a black site in Thailand.

But perhaps the most disturbing recent official effort to sweep our torturous past under the rug is the Administration’s surrender of most copies of the 6,770-page study of the CIA’s detention and interrogation practices to the Senate Intelligence Committee, which produced the report.

This recall was requested by the Chair of that Committee Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrSessions argued presidents can obstruct justice in Clinton impeachment trial Trump Jr. to meet with Senate panel amid Russia probe Trump’s Russian winter grows colder with Flynn plea deal MORE (R-NC). The declassified summary of the report contains a damning assessment of the CIA’s tactics as both ineffective and damaging to America’s reputation and influence.

It raises the distinct possibility that some of these actions violated both international and domestic law.

The physical return of the report is cause for concern that it could be destroyed or at the least relegated to the dustbin of history.

Either outcome would make it more likely the American people will never know the full truth about how and why the U.S. engaged in torture, nor the full list of government officials like Wray and others who knew about abuse, enabled it, or did nothing to stop it.

The parallel decisions to return copies of the report and elevate to government positions key figures from America’s recent torture history should sound a loud alarm for citizens and public officials seeking accountability.

This is particularly worrisome given President Trump’s shocking campaign-trail promotion of more and harsher torture.

Washington should take note that citizens, not as quick to forget this grim period of American history, are beginning to take matters into their own hands.

In North Carolina, they have established the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture. The commission aims to make public the facts about the CIA’s RDI program and help prevent a return to such tactics.

North Carolina’s role is special in that it was used as a launching pad for planes dispatched to pick up suspected terrorists and transport them to or among black sites, where they were indefinitely detained and tortured.

The NCCIT has launched a public investigation of the role that state resources played in supporting the torture program. Our group of eleven distinguished Commissioners includes former high-level military and government officials, academics, human rights experts, and religious leaders.

We aim to thoroughly investigate what occurred, who was harmed, and why it wasn’t stopped, and to make recommendations on behalf of concerned taxpayers and citizens who seek assurance this will not happen again.

Governments that commit torture rarely want to draw public attention to their deeds. Leaders including President Ronald Reagan, who signed the Convention Against Torture, knew it would always be difficult to shine light on such terrible events, so they made it an international legal requirement to confront torture whenever it occurs.

While the physical integrity of the CIA’s torture victims was violated around the world, it is also the reputation of the United States that will continue to suffer if we bury the past.

If North Carolina citizens can confront their state’s legacy, surely official Washington can take a page from their book and ensure any new FBI director is held accountable for both the sins of the past and a future free from torture.

David Crane is the former chief prosecutor of Special Court for Sierra Leone and commissioner of the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.