Imperium Watch: Outside the Constitution, the Gray Zone of Torture

“Perhaps the most important or notable finding of this panel is that it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture.”

That’s the key statement in the opening of a report recently released by the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment.

The Constitution Project did a comprehensive study of the use of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” because both the White House and Congress declined to order such a study.

Soon after taking office, President Obama refused to order an inquiry into the issue. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont sponsored a law requiring an examination of counterterrorism programs following 9/11, but Congress backed away from the idea. So the Constitution Project, a bipartisan research and advocacy group, organized a study led by James Jones, a former Democratic congressman appointed ambassador to Mexico by President Clinton, and Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who served in Congress and in the Department of Homeland Security.

The result is a deeply researched document that’s well worth looking at, not only because it offers information the White House and Congress preferred to keep in the shadows, but because it contains narratives and quotes that go far beyond the newspaper reports on “enhanced interrogation.” It can be read at no charge, with no log-in requirement, at

First, the report says unequivocally, there was torture—and the statements of Vice President Dick Cheney and other officials that it produced valuable information are questionable at best. In fact, the Task Force points out, torture and abuse of prisoners “resulted in false and misleading intelligence, loss of critical intelligence, was unlawful, ineffective, counterproductive, and caused serious damage to the reputation and standing of the United States.”

And the Task Force doesn’t let the U.S. off the hook about torture perpetrated by foreign nationals in U.S. proxy prisons abroad. The report mentions a rendition case that resulted in “bottle torture”—a suspect’s having a broken bottle inserted in his anus—in a Moroccan prison. It describes a situation in which the pregnant wife of a suspect, who was not involved in his political activities, was shackled to the floor and wall of a prison for five days with water but no food before being tied down for 17 hours in a plane to Libya with her husband. Then she was imprisoned for four more months until time for her baby’s birth.

The authors of the report make the case that the use of torture and the denial of constitutional rights to suspects has damaged the U.S.’s standing in the world and given American officials the character of war criminals in the eyes of many, including Americans. The report describes a situation in 2005 in which a group of American attorneys for Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib filed war crimes charges against Donald Rumsfeld in Germany, when Rumsfeld was planning to attend a conference there.

Rumsfeld “eventually attended the conference,” says the report, after the German prosecutor dismissed the charges, saying that there was not enough evidence to prove that the U.S. was “unable or unwilling” to prosecute Rumsfeld, who was Secretary of Defense during the Iraq war.

And in 2011, ex-president George W. Bush canceled a trip to Switzerland because human rights organizations had sent Swiss prosecutors a dossier of charges against him relating to the conduct of interrogations at Guantanamo. An American organization, the Center for Constitution Rights, together with Amnesty International and the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights, had joined forces to get Bush arrested in Switzerland; someone from the ECCHR described it as “a Pinochet opportunity.”

The comments from experienced interrogators interviewed for the study are well worth reading. An example is this from former FBI agent Joe Navarro: “As an interrogator, I need only three things, (1) a quiet room (2) I need to know what the rules are for where the interrogation is taking place because I don’t intend to get into trouble and (3) I need time to build a rapport with the subject and become his only friend. If you give me those three things I’ll get [the information]. I don’t need to be rough. I get Christmas cards every year from guys I’ve sent to prison for life.”•

Author: Stephanie Kraft

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