Moral Low Ground

War & Peace

US Torture ‘Indisputable,’ Bipartisan Panel Concludes

US torture

A landmark bipartisan study has found “indisputable” evidence that the United States practiced torture in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and that the George W. Bush administration is responsible.

The 560-page report, conducted and published by the Constitution Project, a bipartisan, non-profit think-tank, found that President Bush and top administration officials knowingly ordered the use of so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ that US officials previously referred to as torture.

The study also found that the US practice of extraordinary rendition, the apprehension and extrajudicial transfer of terrorism suspects to a network of secret US-run prisons or foreign agencies for the purpose of interrogation, often included the use of torture.

“After conducting our own two-year investigation, weighing the credibility of all sources and studying the current public record, we have come to the regrettable, but unavoidable, conclusion that the United States did indeed engage in conduct that is clearly torture,” panel chairman Asa Hutchinson, formerly a Republican congressman from Arkansas and undersecretary of Homeland Security during the Bush administration, stated.

Countering claims by some conservatives that torture led to finding and killing Osama bin Laden, the new study found that “there is no persuasive evidence that the widespread use of harsh interrogation techniques by US forces produced significant information of value. There is substantial evidence that much of the information adduced from the use of such techniques was not useful or reliable.”

Furthermore, the study found that torture “damaged the standing of our nation, reduced our capacity to convey moral censure when necessary and potentially increased the danger to US military personnel taken captive” by enemy forces.

While abuses occur in all wars, the study panel concluded that “there is no evidence there had ever been the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after September 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 report states.

Indeed, Justice Department lawyer John Yoo argued that the president had unlimited wartime powers, including the right to order the massacre of an entire village of civilians, and that the Geneva Conventions did not apply in the War on Terror. Yoo infamously wrote that detainee abuse only crosses the line into torture if the pain inflicted was equal to “organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death.”

Yoo is one of 13 top Bush officials who either authorized torture, implemented its practice or created or provided legal cover to justify the abuse.

Bush administration officials knew that the techniques they were approving violated US and international laws, including the War Crimes Act, the Federal Anti-Torture Statute, the Torture Victims Protection Act and the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which states that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever… may be invoked as a justification for torture.” Under this law, the US is obligated to prosecute the Bush officials who authorized torture. Not only has the Obama administration failed to do so, it has actively protected the Bush torturers from being held accountable or facing justice.

The study lists dozens of examples of US courts and officials treating ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ as torture when they have been used by or against Americans, including when Japanese soldiers were tried, convicted and executed for waterboarding American prisoners of war.

The panel also urged the Obama administration to declassify a recently-completed 6,000 page Senate report on the CIA’s ‘enhanced interrogation’ program.

Among the verified torture techniques and other abuse that US military and CIA detainees have been subjected to during the course of the 11-year War on Terror: murderrape of male and female detainees, imprisonment of family members as bargaining chipsbeatingsrefusal of medical treatment, interrupted drowning (waterboarding)solitary confinementsensory deprivationsleep deprivation, withholding food and water, force-feeding, exposure to extremes– sometimes deadly– of heat and cold, exposure to insects, exposure to deafeningly loud musicsexual humiliation, menacing and attacking with dogs, shackling in painful ‘stress positions,’ ‘walling,’ death and rape threats against detainees and family members, forced standing, and ‘Palestinian crucifixion.’

Compounding these abuses is the fact that the vast majority of detainees in US custody were innocent, and Bush, Dick Cheney and others knew this but held them anyway. Dozens of innocent Guantánamo Bay prisoners, some of them cleared for release since 2004, are still imprisoned at GITMO to this day.

“What sets the United States apart as a world leader, in addition to our military might, are our values and respect for the rule of law,” former Rep. James R. Jones, a member of the study panel, wrote. “All the available evidence led us to conclude that, for many of these detainees, the US violated both international law and treaties and our own laws, greatly diminishing America’s ability to forge important alliances around the world.”

The study’s authors also aim to end the long-simmering debate over whether or not our nation practiced torture, for “as long as the debate continues, so too does the possibility that the United States could again engage in torture.”

“Democracy and torture cannot peacefully coexist in the same body politic,” the report states. “The task force also believes and hopes that publicly acknowledging this grave error (torture), however belatedly, may… help undo some of the damage to our reputation at home and abroad.”

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