NEW YORK – An independent review of the U.S. government’s anti-terrorism response after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks reported Tuesday that it is “indisputable” the United States engaged in torture and the George W. Bush administration bears responsibility.
The report by the Constitution Project, a nonpartisan Washington-based think tank, is an ambitious review of the Bush administration’s approach to the problems of holding and interrogating detainees after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The report says brutality has occurred in war before, “But there is no evidence there had ever before been the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after September 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.”
The former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, John Bolton, called the report “completely divorced from reality” and stressed that the procedures were “lawyered, and lawyered again, and lawyered again.”
“The whole point of the Bush administration’s review of the techniques was so that no one would be tortured,” he said. “The intention was precisely the opposite.”
The Constitution Project surveyed the ways in which prisoners were held and interrogated at Guantanamo Bay, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and at secret CIA “black prisons.”
The report is the product of a two-year study based on evidence in the public record. It was conducted by a bipartisan task force of 11 experts from a broad range of ideological perspectives and professions. The Constitution Project appointed both former Republican and Democratic policymakers and members of Congress, retired generals, judges, lawyers and academics.
Among them was co-chairman Asa Hutchinson, who was President George W. Bush’s undersecretary for border and transportation security at the Department of Homeland Security from 2003 to 2005. The other co-chairman was former Rep. James R. Jones, a Democrat.
Much of the legal justification for what was called “enhanced interrogation” by some, but torture by the Constitution Project, was drafted by John Yoo, at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.
The Constitution Project report cites Alberto Mora, the general counsel of the Navy, as being one of the senior officials troubled by the expanded interrogation techniques, and quotes him as asking Yoo whether the president could lawfully order a detainee to be tortured.
“Yes, the president could authorize torture, he said was Yoo’s response,” according to the report. “Yoo said that whether the techniques should be used wasn’t a legal question, but rather it was a policy question,” the report says.
A call for response to Yoo, who now teaches at the University of California-Berkeley School of Law, was not immediately answered. The Constitution Project said that he did not participate in the preparation of their report.
As a result of the Bush administration’s green-lighting of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” the report says, “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,” the Constitution Project report said.