A damning and explosive report prepared by a group of bipartisan high-ranking officials concludes that the United States engaged in the “indisputable” use of torture during the Bush administration and it urges President Obama to close the Guantanamo detention camp by the end of 2014.
The report comes as U.S. officials defend a raid they conducted last Saturday at the Guantanamo Bay detention center to regain control over detainees.
While George W. Bush administration officials such as former Vice President Dick Cheney have long maintained that the interrogation techniques used by the U.S. in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks were not torture, the report by the nonpartisan Constitution Project think tank offered the most definitive proof ever assembled that their claims are wrong.
“It is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture,” the 11-member task force assembled by the Constitution Project said in the massive 577-page report.
While Obama banned abusive interrogation techniques such as waterboarding when he took office in early 2009, the fact that he still hasn’t followed through on early promises to close the detention center has been condemned by human rights advocates.
The words of the task force were forceful and unequivocal.
“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 report said.
“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.”
The attention to Guantanamo comes just as officials are trying to stave off criticism of a raid conducted over the weekend at the base in Cuba. As many as 43 detainees have been engaged in a hunger strike for at least two months, with prison officials resorting to force-feeding to keep them alive.
Top officials at the detention center yesterday said the operation was critically important, and the handful of injuries on both sides were minor.
In the raid, soldiers who had trained for several weeks for the operation, donned riot helmets and shields and swept into recreation yards, meeting with resistance from several dozen prisoners. During the minutes-long confrontation, two guards were struck in the head by prisoners and five prisoners were injured, including one hit by rubber pellets from what the military calls a “less-than-lethal” round fired from a modified shotgun.
“The appropriate amount of force was used for the situation,” said Navy Rear Adm. John W. Smith, the commander of the detention center.
Officials said the raid on Camp 6 was necessary because the prisoners had for several weeks covered up 147 of the 160 security cameras, making it impossible to monitor them. Smith said they were concerned a prisoner might try to commit suicide, since there had been two attempted suicides since the protest began around Feb. 6.
To compile the report on Guantanamo, panel members interviewed former Clinton, Bush and Obama administration officials, military officers and former prisoners. 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.
The panel insisted that the fears in the nation after 9/11 were no excuse for resorting to torture.
And the panel concluded there was no “persuasive evidence” that 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.
“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 Obama administration to release as much classified information as possible to help understand what went wrong. “Publicly acknowledging this grave error, however belatedly, may … help undo some of the damage to our reputation at home and abroad,” the report said.
The task force also said force-feeding hunger striking detainees is “a form of abuse and must end” and called on the United States to abide by international medical standards.