Finding: U.S. Engaged in Torture Post 9/11

The Report on Detainee Treatment

mqdefaultOn Tuesday, April 16, a high-level task force released a massive 577 page report on the interrogation and detention programs carried out by the Bush administration in the years following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It concluded that “it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture” and the nation’s highest officials, including those in the Executive branch, bore ultimate responsibility for it.

Guantanamo-1As reported by The New York Times, the work of this investigative body represents “the fullest independent effort so far to assess the treatment of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and at the C.I.A.’s secret prisons.” The study took two years to complete, and was carried out by an 11 member task force commissioned by The Constitution Project, an independent non-partisan non-profit organization that focuses on the law, constitutional liberties, and the criminal justice program.

The task force was led by two experienced former congressmen: Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, who served as under secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in the Bush administration, and James Jones, a Democrat, who was an ambassador to Mexico in the Clinton administration. According the New York Times, Mr. Hutchinson stated that he “took convincing” on the torture issue. But after the panel’s nearly two years of research, he had no doubts about what the United States had done.

Use of Extreme Interrogation

88176899-waterboardingAlthough it has been argued by some that extraordinary means was required to gather information from these detainees, the task force found “no firm or persuasive evidence” that these extreme interrogation methods produced valuable information that could not have been obtained by other means. They state that while “a person subjected to torture might well divulge useful information,” much of the information obtained by force in these interrogations was not reliable.

In its findings, the task force was critical of “the ethical lapses of government lawyers in the Bush years who served up ‘acrobatic’ advice to justify brutal interrogations, and of medical professionals who helped oversee them.” While recognizing that brutality often occurs in war, there has never before been “the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after 9/11 directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody.”

The Task force also criticized the Obama administration’s use of expansive claims of secrecy to keep the details of rendition and torture from becoming public and to block victims’ lawsuits. It noted that the United States is a signatory to the international Convention Against Torture, which requires the prompt investigation of allegations of torture and the compensation of its victims.

Violation of International Law

The findings of this report have important consequences for the United States. The panel found that the United States violated its international legal obligations by engineering ‘enforced disappearances’ and secret detentions. It also contains a detailed 22-page legal and historical analysis explaining the basis for the task force’s conclusion that the United States did indeed engage in torture. It provides “dozens of legal cases in which similar treatment was prosecuted in the United States or denounced as torture by American officials when used by other countries.”

GeorgeWBushHIjoIn 2011, when then former President Bush attended an economic summit in British Columbia, there were public protests and Amnesty International even submitted an extensive legal brief to Canada’s Attorney General arguing that “Canada is required by its international obligations to arrest and prosecute former president Bush given his responsibility for crimes under international law, including torture.”

The Canadian government declined to take any such action at that time. But it serves as a warning that President Bush and other key officials in his administration should take care when visiting other countries in the future. In Malaysia in November 2011 a seven-member panel chaired by a former Malaysian Federal Court judge unanimously found George Bush guilty of committing “crimes against peace” during the Iraq war in a mock tribunal.

Now further evidence is in, and various parties may be quite willing to go beyond mere symbolic gestures to see President Bush and his associates indicted for war crimes.

About Edward Clayton
Edward Clayton grew up in the US but has lived in Canada for the last 4 decades. He is a long time peace activist and committed to issues of social justice and good government. He reports on Canadian, American, and global politics from a Canadian perspective.

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