Bipartisan Study Concludes Bush Administration “Indisputably” Sanctioned U.S. Use of Torture

Thursday, April 18, 2013
Abu Ghraib

The U.S. government under the administration of President George W. Bush did indeed use torture during its war on terror following the September 11, 2001, attacks, a new bipartisan study concluded.


Involving both former Republican and Democratic lawmakers, the report produced by The Constitution Project, a legal research and advocacy group, stated that “it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture” and that officials in the Bush White House bore responsibility for it.


The 577-page report said that never before had there 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.”


Furthermore, the use of 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,” the report stated.


Lastly, the authors found “no firm or persuasive evidence” that the torture yielded valuable information that could not have been obtained by other means. And what information that was obtained through torture proved to be unreliable.


The report confirmed the illegal engineering of secret imprisonment and “enforced disappearances.” It also laid blame on medical professionals who assisted in the direction and monitoring of “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment," and with the International Committee of the Red Cross which—after much internal debate—chose to remain publicly silent for months about the U.S. abuses. Those abuses, the report pointed out, were enabled by government lawyers who provided the necessary “acrobatic” legal advice to U.S. leaders.


The report is considered to be the most comprehensive, independent effort to date to investigate, assess and summarize the post-9/11 detention and interrogation programs undertaken by the Bush administration. A 6,000-page 2012 Senate Intelligence Committee report on the subject remains classified.


The authors did not rely on classified material for its study, but did conduct extensive interviews with American and foreign officials, as well as former detainees. The report includes previously undisclosed information pertaining to abusive detainee interrogations at Guantánamo Bay prison and “black sites” used by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as well as prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan. It details coercive techniques that were used, which included not only waterboarding of prisoners, but slamming them into walls, stripping them of clothing, keeping them awake for days, and chaining them into painful positions for hours.


Although the CIA has long insisted that it waterboarded no more than three Al-Qaeda detainees, the report confirms a report from Human Rights Watch that one or more Libyan militants were also subjected to the near-drowning technique.


A key 22-page section of the document provides an exhaustive legal analysis that explains why the report concludes, without reservation, that the U.S. engaged in torture. Cited are many legal cases in which the same treatment of prisoners, performed by other nations, was denounced by American officials and prosecuted in the United States. The U.S. War Crimes Act of 1996, written and promoted by Republicans, required Americans to abide by the same human rights standards that exist on an international level.


One of the study’s lead authors, Asa Hutchinson—who was head of the Drug Enforcement Administration and an undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security in the Bush administration—told The New York Times that he had originally been skeptical about the torture claims, but after two years of research for the report, he came away with no doubt about the U.S.’s culpability.


The study was produced by an 11-member panel led by Hutchinson, a Republican, and James R. Jones, a Democrat. Its other members included—from both ends of the political spectrum—members of Congress, academics, judges, lawyers, and retired generals. The project was initiated as a result of President Barack Obama’s refusal, in 2009, to support the creation of a commission charged with investigating the detainee interrogation programs under Bush.


“I had not recognized the depths of torture in some cases,” Jones said to the Times. “We lost our compass.”

-Danny Biederman, Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

U.S. Engaged in Torture After 9/11, Review Concludes (by Scott Shane, New York Times)

The Report of the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment (Constitution Project)

Report: US Resorted to Torture After 9/11 Terror (by Peter James Spielmann, Associated Press)

The Constitution Project's Vital Terrorism and Torture Report (by Jacob Heilbrunn, National Interest)

U.N. Calls on Obama to Publish Findings on Bush-Era Torture (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)    

Senate Report on CIA Torture Techniques May Remain Secret (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)  

11 Secret Documents Americans Deserve to See (by David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

Bush Admits to Breaking U.S. Anti-Torture Law…but No Prosecution Planned (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)     


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