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Scholars and Military Experts Call for Presidential Commission on Post-9/11 Detention Policy

March 3, 2009

A day before the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on whether to investigate post-9/11 detention policies, a group of leading scholars, human rights specialists and retired military officers has issued a statement calling on President Obama to create a commission of inquiry to investigate those matters.

“At this moment of national renewal, it is important to face the future armed with a thorough understanding of the past,” said Almerindo Ojeda, the group's co-founder and principal investigator of the Guantánamo Testimonials Project at the University of California, Davis, Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas.

Calling itself the Davis Group, the 13-member organization includes scholars; retired military officers; human rights specialists; practicing attorneys who have represented detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Bagram and other locations; individuals with experience in conducting previous government commissions; intelligence specialists; and constitutional rights experts. Members include retired U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham; Salomon Lerner Febres, president of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Republic of Peru; retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Colby Vokey; and Eugene R. Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice.

The group's statement, submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee, calls for the creation of an independent, nonpartisan commission comprised of respected experts and charged with issuing a final report within two years. The commission would possess subpoena powers, be granted appropriate security clearances, possess the ability to receive testimony of foreign witnesses, and have the power to grant limited testimonial immunity. However, its actions should not impede other avenues of accountability or related efforts to effect reforms, prosecutions or reparations, the statement emphasizes.

“An independent and nonpartisan commission of inquiry is the essential first step to achieving President Obama’s goals of reforming U.S. detention policy and safeguarding against future abuses. The American people deserve a full accounting of the facts and policies relating to the capture, detention, transfer, interrogation, and treatment of persons who have been detained by, or transferred for detention by others at the direction of, the United States since September 11, 2001,” said Hope Metcalf, director of the National Litigation Project of the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School.

Abraham, an attorney, said that U.S. detention policies have eroded the moral foundations upon which the nation is built.

“When this nation faltered from its moral footing, we damaged our intelligence efforts, our national security, and our international standing, which cannot easily be measured but will assuredly be felt for years if not generations to come,” Abraham said.

While some maintain that expanded executive powers and the use of torture have been necessary and appropriate to protect our national security, Vokey, a former Marine Corps lawyer, counters that the measures have made the nation less safe.

“The abuse of detainees continues to threaten the security of our own military forces, undermining both our moral authority and our ability to protect U.S. forces in the future," Vokey said. "Only through an independent, nonpartisan, transparent and thorough investigation into the facts, circumstances and policies employed in response to the Sept. 11 attacks can we begin to objectively assess what has been done in the name of the American people and restore our nation’s great history,” said Vokey.

Ojeda, whose Guantanamo Testimonials Project has gathered accounts of Guantanamo experiences from hundreds of detainees, FBI agents, interrogators, military physicians and lawyers, said that an effective commission must be able to gather overseas evidence.

“We need to listen to the individuals who have been the most affected by these practices and policies — the detainees themselves," Ojeda said. "The technical and political costs involved will pale in comparison to the gains it will yield. Not just to establish the facts, but also to strengthen U.S. relations with key allies in the fight against terrorism.”

The Davis Group first met Jan. 16-18 at UC Davis. It continues to work toward the goal of establishing a U.S. Commission of Inquiry into U.S. detention policies and practices.

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Additional information:

Media contact(s):

  • Almerindo Ojeda, UC Davis Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas, (530) 574-4865, aeojeda@ucdavis.edu
  • Stephen Abraham, Law Offices of Stephen Abraham, (949) 706-5903, sabraham@falawyers.com (Cell: (214) 697-0274)
  • Colby Vokey, Attorney at Law, (214) 237-0274, cvokey@fhsulaw.com (Alternate phone: (214) 697-0274)
  • Claudia Morain, UC Davis News Service, (530) 752-9841, cmmorain@ucdavis.edu

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