Bush-era torture use ‘indisputable,’ Guantanamo must close, task force finds
An independent task force is asking President Obama to close the Guantanamo detention camp in a 577-page report critiquing interrogation methods used since 9/11 under President George W. Bush. NBC’s Brian Williams reports.
By Matt Spetalnick and Jane Sutton, Reuters
An independent task force issued a damning review of Bush-era interrogation practices on Tuesday, saying the highest U.S. officials bore ultimate responsibility for the "indisputable" use of torture, and it urged President Barack Obama to close the Guantanamo detention camp by the end of 2014.
In one of the most comprehensive studies of U.S. treatment of terrorism suspects, the panel concluded 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."
"It is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture," the 11-member task force, assembled by the nonpartisan Constitution Project think tank, said in their 577-page report.
The scathing critique of methods used under the Republican administration of former President George W. Bush also sharpened the focus on the plight of inmates at Guantanamo, which Bush opened and his Democratic successor has failed to close.
Obama banned abusive interrogation techniques such as waterboarding when he took office in early 2009, but the widely condemned military prison at the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba has remained an object of condemnation by human rights advocates.
A clash between guards and prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay camp last weekend and the release of harrowing accounts by inmates about force-feeding of hunger strikers threw a harsh spotlight on the predicament of the inmates, many held without charge or trial for more than decade.
The task force called the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantanamo "abhorrent and intolerable" and called for it to be closed by the end of 2014 when NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan is due to end and most U.S. troops will leave.
By then, the 166 Guantanamo prisoners should be tried in civilian or military courts, repatriated or transferred to countries that would not torture them, or moved to U.S. jails, the task force’s majority recommended.
But the 2014 goal will be hard to achieve because of legal, legislative and political obstacles Obama faces. While the White House says he remains committed to shutting Guantanamo, he has offered no new path to doing so in his second term.
The release of the encyclopedic report comes in the midst of the latest round of allegations of abuse at Guantanamo – which has become an enduring symbol of widely criticized Bush-era counterterrorism practices – where military officials say 43 prisoners are currently on a hunger strike.
Members of the task force described themselves as the closest thing to a "truth commission" since Obama decided early in his presidency against convening a national commission to investigate post-9/11 practices.
The panel, which included leading politicians from both parties, two U.S. retired generals and legal and ethics scholars, spent two years examining the U.S. treatment of suspected militants detained after the September 11, 2001, attacks.
Panel members interviewed former Clinton, Bush and Obama administration officials, military officers and former prisoners, and the investigation looked at U.S. practices at Guantanamo, in Afghanistan and Iraq and at the CIA’s former secret prisons overseas.
The task force was chaired by Asa Hutchinson, a Republican former congressman and undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security during the George W. Bush administration, and James Jones, a Democratic former congressman who served as U.S. ambassador to Mexico.
In a finding the panel said was its most notable and was reached "without reservation," the report said, "Torture occurred in many instances and across a wide range of theaters."
But the panel concluded there was "no firm or persuasive evidence" that the use of such techniques yielded "significant information of value."
"The nation’s highest officials bear some responsibility for allowing and contributing to the spread of torture," the report said, though it did not name names.
The task force, while concluding that U.S. and international laws were violated, did not recommend legal action against any of those involved but it did press for tighter rules to prevent a recurrence of torture.
"We as a nation have to get this right," Hutchinson told a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington.
The panel urged the U.S. government to release as much classified information as possible to help understand what went wrong and cope better with the next crisis.
"Publicly acknowledging this grave error, however belatedly, may mitigate some of those consequences and help undo some of the damage to our reputation at home and abroad," the report said.
The sweeping report cataloged abusive interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation and chaining prisoners in painful positions.
The task force also concluded that force-feeding hunger striking detainees is a form of abuse and should end. "But at the same time the United States has a legitimate interest in preventing detainees from starving to death," the panel said.
The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross last week expressed opposition to the force-feeding of prisoners and said he urged Obama to do more to resolve the "untenable" legal plight of inmates held there.
The hunger strike began in February to protest the seizure of personal items from detainees’ cells. About a dozen are being force-fed liquid meals through tubes.
Guards swept through communal cell blocks at the camp on Saturday and moved the prisoners into one-man cells.
"The action was taken to ensure the health and safety of the detainees not to ‘break’ the hunger strike," said Navy Captain Robert Durand, a spokesman for the Guantanamo detention center.
Bipartisan Elites: Yes, the Bush Administration Totally Tortured
Centrist, establishment types detail brutal, illegal interrogation tactics in a new reckoning.
CONOR FRIEDERSDORFAPR 17 2013, 6:00 AM ET
A dozen years after 9/11, many movement conservatives still want to have it both ways. They want to insist that the Bush Administration was correct to strap prisoners down, prevent them from breathing, and force water into their lungs to terrify them with the sensation of drowning; that it was proper to intimidate them with dogs, slam heads into walls, and deprive them of sleep and darkness; but also that these tactics didn’t amount to torture, just "enhanced interrogations." They would strenuously object if George W. Bush’s obituary mentioned that, under his leadership, the United States government systematically and illegally tortured people.
Establishment media is averse to the "t" word too. Partisan and ideological disagreements about whether the Bush Administration engaged in torture have caused newspapers like The New York Times to seek out characterizations that permit them to remain neutral players in the controversy.
On Tuesday, the notion that the Bush Administration didn’t torture, and the notion that it is appropriate for media organizations to remain neutral on that question, suffered what should be a fatal blow.
The Task Force on Detainee Treatment, a bipartisan commission convened by the Constitution Project, has just released a comprehensive investigative report on "detainee treatment," stating in plain, certain terms that torture was perpetrated. The 576-page report begins with a plainspoken introductory statement summarizing its findings. Only two passages are boldfaced. "Perhaps the most important or notable finding of this panel," it states, "is that it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture." And "the second notable conclusion of the Task Force is that the nation’s highest officials bear some responsibility for allowing and contributing to the spread of torture."
Now people who require bipartisan consensus from D.C. elder statesmen to accept a conclusion can stop regarding the torture question as unsettled and confront the fact that torture happened. Lots of people broke the law, since torture is illegal, and haven’t ever been punished.
These conclusions aren’t novel or groundbreaking.
Human-rights groups, legal observers, and journalists, among many others, have long chronicled the brutal torture perpetrated as a direct result of specific Bush Administration decisions.
Their careful findings have been correct, and the dearth of attention they’ve received is shameful. The Detainee Task Force report is nevertheless noteworthy. Its findings, based on a thorough two-year investigation, are endorsed by members in good standing of the U.S. establishment. Americans who’ve studied the facts have long known that Team Bush tortured. Now people who require bipartisan consensus from D.C. elder statesmen to accept a conclusion can stop regarding the torture question as unsettled and confront the fact that torture happened. It happened on George W. Bush’s watch, and "high officials" were partly responsible for it. Lots of people broke the law, since torture is illegal, and haven’t ever been punished.
So say the elder statesmen.
They include Asa Hutchinson, who served in the Bush Administration as a Department of Homeland Security undersecretary from 2003 to 2005, and as the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration before that; James R. Jones, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico and a Democratic member of the House of Representatives for seven terms; Talbot D’Alemberte, a former president of the American Bar Association; legal scholar Richard Epstein; David Gushee, a professor of Christian ethics; David Irvine, a former Republican state legislator and retired brigadier general; Claudia Kennedy, "the first woman to receive the rank of three-star general in the United States army"; naval veteran and career diplomat Thomas Pickering; William Sessions, director of the FBI in three presidential administrations; and others.
They all agree that Team Bush tortured people.
In fact, their conclusion about illegal torture is stated in language so powerful and uncompromising that it must be quoted directly to avoid the risk of understating their vehemence.
The United States engaged in torture, they wrote, adding that:
This finding, offered without reservation, is not based on any impressionistic approach to the issue. No member of the Task Force made this decision because the techniques "seemed like torture to me," or "I would regard that as torture." Instead, this conclusion is grounded in a thorough and detailed examination of what constitutes torture in many contexts, notably historical and legal. The Task Force examined court cases in which torture was deemed to have occurred both inside and outside the country and, tellingly, in instances in which the United States has leveled the charge of torture against other governments.
The United States may not declare a nation guilty of engaging in torture and then exempt itself from being so labeled for similar if not identical conduct. It should be noted that the conclusion that torture was used means it occurred in many instances and across a wide range of theaters. This judgment is not restricted to or dependent on the three cases in which detainees of the CIA were subjected to waterboarding, which had been approved at the highest levels.
Noting conventions that prevent most journalists from endorsing a conclusion so sweeping, the report notes that "the public may simply perceive that there is no right side, as there are two equally fervent views held on a subject, with substantially credentialed people on both sides." It nevertheless concludes that "the members, coming from a wide political spectrum, believe that the arguments that the nation did not engage in torture and that much of what occurred should be defined as something less than torture are not credible." Bush defenders on this subject are simply wrong.
Lets Hope The Nation’s Highest Officials Get The American Justice They They So Despicably Deserve Soon