News & Politics

Bipartisan Report Concludes There's No Doubt U.S. Tortured, Violated Law

A bipartisan review sets the record straight on the Bush administration's torture program after 9/11.

Guantanamo Prison Flight
Photo Credit: Publik15/Flickr

There is no doubt that the United States tortured people in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, and a new independent review makes that all the more clear. While the broad contours of the Bush administration’s torture program are by now well known, the bipartisan review is “the most ambitious independent attempt to date to assess the detention and interrogation programs,” the New York Times notes.

The assessment was put together by the Constitution Project, and was lead by a Democrat and a Republican--both of them former members of Congress. The 577 page report states that torture has “no justification” and “damaged the standing of our nation, reduced our capacity to convey moral censure when necessary and potentially increased the danger to U.S. military personnel taken captive.” It also concludes that torture does not provide reliable intelligence. The Constitution Project publication calls on Guantanamo Bay to be closed by 2014, and says that the nation's highest officials bear responsibility for the use of torture.

“The project was undertaken with the belief that it was important to provide an account as authoritative and accurate as possible of how the United States treated, and continues to treat, people held in our custody as the nation mobilized to deal with a global terrorist threat,” the Constitution Project states. It is a rebuke to President Barack Obama’s mantra that it is important to look forward rather than examine the Bush administration’s sordid dealings. The project touches on issues ranging from  “black sites” to rendition to the role of medical professionals in interrogations.

The report also confirms what Human Rights Watch first reported: that Libyan militants were waterboarded. That confirmation contradicts the CIA’s account that only three high-level members of al-Qaeda were subject to waterboarding, a brutal form of torture.

The Constitution Project panel makes clear that the U.S. violated international law while engaging in systematic torture. And the New York Times notes that the report “calls for the revision of the Army Field Manual on interrogation to eliminate Appendix M, which it says would permit an interrogation for 40 consecutive hours, and to restore an explicit ban on stress positions and sleep manipulation.”

While the assessment largely focuses on the Bush administration, the Obama administration also comes in for criticism. The report says that the Obama administration has largely kept the torture program in the dark, and has repeatedly cited the “state secrets” privilege in court to block lawsuits by former detainees. It also calls for the U.S. government’s own official report on torture to be released.

That report on the CIA’s tactics post 9/11 has been completed, but it remains classified.


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Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.