America Tortured After 9/11

The Constitution ProjectIt is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture. That’s not what I say; that’s according to the nonpartisan, independent review performed by the Constitution Project. According to Scott Shane at the New York Times, the group is releasing a 577-page report tomorrow.

I understand that a group with a name like “Constitution Project” sounds like it’s filled with a bunch of libertarian and pacifists who are outside the political mainstream. But that isn’t really the case. It is a think tank that tries to bring the left and right of the political spectrum together to agree on constitutional matters. And the eleven members of panel were well represented by the two major parties. What’s more, Shane explained, “It is the most ambitious independent attempt to date to assess the detention and interrogation programs.”

What is most significant about the report is that it is so unequivocal. When Dianne Feinstein et al, wrote their letter criticizing the film Zero Dark Thirty, they were careful never to use the word “torture.” This is because, according the United States government, we never tortured anyone. Of course, this is just a semantic game: you say “torture” but I say “enhanced interrogation techniques”; let’s call the whole thing off?

The following passage from the article includes a key quote from the report:

The sweeping, 577-page report says that while brutality has occurred in every American war, there never before had 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.”

This is the kind of stuff that members of the panel tend to rationalize, saying that everyone “had acted in good faith, in a desperate effort to try to prevent more attacks.” I’ve been hearing this for years, and I’ve never bought it. It strikes me as being as believable as Bush’s repeated claim in 2002-2003 that he really didn’t want to go to war. In this case, I think that Cheney and company were looking for any excuse to torture. It wasn’t about keeping anyone safe; it was about being the badasses that these guys imagined themselves to be.

But the report does not only go after Bush. Shane wrote:

While the Constitution Project report covers mainly the Bush years, it is critical of some Obama administration policies, especially what it calls excessive secrecy. It says that keeping the details of rendition and torture from the public “cannot continue to be justified on the basis of national security” and urges the administration to stop citing state secrets to block lawsuits by former detainees.

It doesn’t too much seem to matter who is in power, although clearly Obama is distinctly better than Bush. But therein lies a major problem. If Obama is the best our country can reasonably expect for a president (which I believe), “slightly better than Bush” does not speak well of who we’ve become. Hopefully, this report will help a little.

Update (16 April 2013 9:42 pm)

Andrew Sullivan has had his problems in the past, but he’s never been a torture apologist. And today over at The Dish, he had a very reasonable proposal:

What matters—and the law is crystal clear about this—is that torture and anything even close to torture be prosecuted aggressively. This is true especially when a government is claiming urgent national security in defense of its own crimes. The laws specifically rule out any defense on those grounds. So either we are a republic governed by the rule of law or we are not. Yes, there is discretion as to whether to prosecute any crime. But war crimes are the gravest on the books and have no statute of limitations. Prosecuting them is integral to adherence to Geneva, which itself is integral to the maintenance of the rule of law and of Western civilization itself. Either we set up a Truth Commission and find a way to pardon the war criminals, while establishing their guilt—which would at least give a brief nod to the rule of law. Or we have to take this report and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s findings as a basis for legal action for war crimes.

There is no way forward without this going back. And there is no way past this but through it.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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