The Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment is an independent, non-partisan group that produced a report comprehensively documenting the United States’ descent into torture. The Task Force released a 600-page report today. Among the Report’s many conclusions:
U.S. forces, in many instances, used interrogation techniques on detainees that constitute torture. American personnel conducted an even larger number of interrogations that involved “cruel, inhuman, or degrading” treatment. Both categories of actions violate U.S. laws and international treaties. Such conduct was directly counter to values of the Constitution and our nation.
There is no firm or persuasive evidence that the widespread use of harsh interrogation techniques by U.S. 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.
The Senate Intelligence Committee approved its own 6,000 page report, which similarly concludes that torture occurred and was ineffective at gleaning intelligence, but Congress refused to release the report publicly. Shame on Congress.
Along the same vein, the Obama administration has said it wants to “look forward, not backward” on torture, and the Justice Department has declined to prosecute any of the government officials who ordered torture, the doctors who supervised it, the lawyers who justified it, or the agents who actually tortured people. Shame on the Obama administration.
(The Justice Department instead chose to prosecute Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) whistleblower John Kiriakou, who refused to participate in torture and helped exposed the torture program).
The Task Force places much of the blame for torture on the high-level officials that ordered and authorized the practices, but finds that culpability also lies with the lawyers who rationalized torture. The report found that:
Lawyers in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) repeatedly gave erroneous legal sanction to certain activities that amounted to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in violation of U.S. and international law, and in doing so, did not properly serve their clients: the president and the American people.
Under Attorney General Eric Holder, the Justice Department absolved the torture memo authors (Jay Bybee and John Yoo) of any professional accountability for torture.
Despite the obvious ethical violations in rationalizing torture, I am the only Justice Department attorney who was referred the bar associations where I’m licensed in connection with a torture case (that of so-called “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh), and I blew the whistle in that case. (One bar referral is still pending a decade later).
The Task Force was also critical of the excessive secrecy surrounding the torture program:
The high level of secrecy surrounding the rendition and torture of detainees since September 11 cannot continue to be justified on the basis of national security.
If national security is no longer a justification for secrecy, as the Task Force concludes, then the only reason for continued secrecy is to cover-up torture and cover for the officials who perpetuated the torture program. (I’ve written about the lengths to which the executive branch – particularly the CIA – has gone to protect and promote torturers).
A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.
We have been protecting the wrong people.