WASHINGTON – It is “indisputable” that the United States engaged in torture after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and top officials are ultimately to blame, an independent review released Tuesday says.
The lengthy bipartisan report, led by two former lawmakers, found intelligence officers and military forces practiced torture, as well as “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment of detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq, the U.S.-run prison at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere, in violation of U.S. and international law.
The cochair of the panel, Asa Hutchinson, a former Republican lawmaker who worked in the George W. Bush administration, said that “we have come to the regrettable, but unavoidable, conclusion that the United States did indeed engage in conduct that is clearly torture.”
The 577-page report, sponsored by legal advocacy group The Constitution Project, marked the most comprehensive attempt outside of federal government to assess the nation’s interrogation record over the past decade, featuring dozens of interviews with former CIA officers and other key actors. An exhaustive inquiry by the Senate has yet to be publicly released.
The interrogation tactics used after 9/11 failed to produce valuable information and had been condemned as torture and abuse by the U.S. government in the past when the techniques were used by other countries, the report said.
The tolerance of torture violated the country’s values and was “greatly diminishing America’s ability to forge important alliances around the world,” said the panel’s other cochair, James Jones, a former Democratic representative and ambassador to Mexico under President Bill Clinton.
The torture employed by U.S. interrogators was never explicitly authorized but was the result of “decisions made by the nation’s highest civilian and military leaders,” including deciding that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to al-Qaida and Taliban militants and that the CIA could use brutal techniques against “high-value” detainees, it said.
Bush administration officials allowed the CIA to employ harsh tactics on detainees at secret prisons — or “black sites” — in Thailand, Poland, Romania and Lithuania, a policy that has created legal headaches for those countries, the study said.
The report focused mainly on the Bush presidency but also said the practice of secretly transferring detainees overseas was used during the Clinton administration. The panel also accused President Barack Obama of imposing excessive secrecy over his administration’s treatment of detainees, as well as drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen.
Although the U.S. officials who allowed the spread of torture meant well in trying to prevent future terrorist attacks, it was crucial that Americans come to terms with what happened, the review said.
The report drew a parallel between the use of torture after 9/11 and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, saying: “What was once generally taken to be understandable and justifiable behavior can later become a case of historical regret.”
The panel urged declassifying CIA and other government documents related to investigations of torture, including the Senate Intelligence Committee’s probe, to ensure a full public accounting.