WASHINGTON -- A two-year independent investigation by the Constitution Project released Tuesday said that U.S. forces engaged in torture and senior officials bear responsibility for it.
The nonpartisan, 577-page report concluded that the events of the "war on terror" following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks were "unprecedented" in American history. While the authors concede that some U.S. forces have committed brutal acts, they wrote that there has been no evidence that a U.S. president and top officials discussed the legality and effectiveness of "inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in custody."
The report is a rebuke to President Barack Obama's opposition to investigating torture under the Bush administration. As he said in an interview following his election in 2008, Obama has advocated "a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backward."
"Task Force members believe that having as thorough as possible an understanding of what occurred during this period of serious threat -- and a willingness to acknowledge any shortcomings -- strengthens the nation, and equips us to better cope with the next crisis and ones after that," the authors wrote. "Moving on without such a reckoning weakens our ability to claim our place as an exemplary practitioner of the rule of law."
Former Reps. James Jones (D-Okla.) and Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.), head of the Drug Enforcement Administration under President George W. Bush, co-chaired the task force that conducted the report. The 11 task force members said they conducted dozens of interviews but had no access to classified information.
Hutchinson also authored a report for the National Rifle Association arguing that the United States should put more armed guards in schools to keep children safe following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. He has announced that he is running for governor of Arkansas in 2014.
The torture report discarded the euphemism of "enhanced interrogation techniques" and said that U.S. forces engaged in torture. By examining court cases of torture and cases by the United States against other countries, the authors concluded that "The United States may not declare a nation guilty of engaging in torture and then exempt itself from being so labeled for similar if not identical conduct."
The report rejected the contention that torture resulted from of a "few bad apples," as Bush said following the release of sickening photos showing American soldiers abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. The authors cited two decisions as key to this conclusion: Bush's declaration that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to detainees in Afghanistan and the Guantanamo Bay detention center, and his authorization to allow the CIA to use brutal techniques against some detainees. The report also cited comments by Vice President Dick Cheney that the U.S. must work on "the dark side" and other similar comments leading to the perception that such practices would be tolerated.
The investigation concluded further that there was no evidence that torture produced any significant information, much of the information provided was unreliable, and it did not lead to the capture Osama Bin Laden. The authors clarified that classified evidence may exist to show that such practices worked, but the U.S. government has thus far declined to release it.
Questions over the legality of detainee policy largely led to a rapid increase in the usage of drones to kill targets rather than capture and interrogate them, as Mark Mazetti of The New York Times has reported. However, the report authors noted that the U.S. has not stopped the practice of taking detainees altogether -- they wrote that the military was still thought to be taking in about 100 new detainees a month at the Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan as of late 2012.
The report also called for an end to indefinite detention at Guantanamo prison, which has continued to stay open under Obama. The authors -- aside from Hutchinson and law professor Richard Epstein, who both dissented -- argued that the prison should be closed in conjunction with the 2014 drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, with detainees tried in a mix of civilian and military courts. The report also pushed the prison to stop force-feeding detainees, which a Monday New York Times op-ed by a prisoner there brutally detailed.
Though the report outlined torture under Bush, it made explicit recommendations to Obama. The authors called for the declassification of information regarding detainee policy to prohibit its repetition, and for the United States to comply with the United Nations Convention Against Torture and ensure that the transfers of detainees to Afghan prisons do not result in their torture.
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