In the aftermath of 9/11, the United States used torture against detainees that was approved and facilitated by the nation's highest-ranking officials. This damning conclusion comes from a two-year review of evidence by the nonpartisan Constitution Project. Its 577-page report makes clear that the United States lost its moral compass when the Bush administration resorted to waterboarding detainees, slamming them against walls and other inhumane practices. This independent report is a valuable contribution to setting the record straight.
The 11-member task force that produced the study was co-chaired by Asa Hutchinson, a former Republican congressman who was an undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security in the Bush administration. By putting his name to it, Hutchinson courageously stands against the apologists in his party who claim that abusing prisoners, especially the high-value detainees who suffered waterboarding, was essential to national security and finding Osama bin Laden.
The task force flatly rejects this, citing interviews with more than 100 people including former detainees, military and intelligence officers and interrogators, and investigations in Afghanistan, Iraq and other nations. The report concludes that there is "no firm or persuasive evidence" that using abusive interrogation techniques "produced significant information of value" and there is "substantial evidence" that what was gleaned "was not useful or reliable."
Using torture, the task force concludes, was damaging to the standing of our nation and our ability to convey moral censure. It says we endangered U.S. military personnel taken captive by foreign enemies.
Of course, there have been horrific acts by U.S. personnel in other wars. But this is the first time that torture was officially sanctioned as a tool of intelligence gathering. And for those convinced by the government lawyers who twisted the definition of torture to make it appear that what the United States did didn't rise to that level, there is a 22-page appendix listing situations where the United States declared similar treatment by other countries to be torture in violation of international law.
The Constitution Project took on this investigation because the Obama administration has shamefully kept up a campaign of secrecy surrounding exactly what happened to the men held in CIA and military prisons. The administration uses the state secrets defense to prevent former abused detainees from obtaining redress from the courts or informing the public of what happened to them. So too, the Senate Intelligence Committee has refused to declassify and make public a 6,000-page review of detainee treatment, based on CIA records. Without official Washington offering an authoritative and accurate account, the task force's report is the most comprehensive public record that exists. Only by acknowledging the grave mistakes that were made will the nation be less likely to repeat them when the next serious threat occurs.