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Human Rights

Bipartisan Task Force on Torture Calls for U.S. Redemption

WASHINGTON, Apr 16 2013 (IPS) - Former U.S. Republican Congressman Asa Hutchinson hopes his country can redeem itself after torturing an unknown but certainly large number of detainees.

“There is no persuasive evidence in the public record that the widespread use of torture against suspected terrorists was necessary,” he said during a press briefing Tuesday in Washington.

“Torture often produces false information, and it is difficult and time-consuming for interrogators and analysts to distinguish what may be true and usable from that which is false and misleading,” Hutchinson continued.

“We see no evidence in the public record that the traditional means of interrogation would not have yielded the necessary intelligence following the attacks of 9/11,” he added.

Hutchinson is co-chair of the Constitution Project’s blue-ribbon Task Force on Detainee Treatment, a bipartisan group comprised of high-ranking U.S. officials from the judiciary, Congress, diplomatic service, military and intelligence agencies, as well as experts in law, medicine and ethics.

For over two years, the task force amassed public records and conducted over 100 interviews to shed light on the U.S.’s treatment of suspected terrorists since Sep. 11, 2001.

The task force concluded in a 560-page report that it is “indisputable that the U.S. engaged in the practice of torture” and that “the nation’s highest officials bear some responsibility for allowing and contributing to the spread of torture”.

Hutchinson said that the task force’s definition of torture stems from historical and legal court cases. He explained that interrogation techniques the U.S. State Department identifies as torture when implemented by other nations are similar, if not identical, to some U.S. interrogation techniques.

Hutchinson said, “We as a nation have to get this right. I look back at history to the time during World War II when we interned some Japanese Americans. At the time, it seemed like a right and proper thing to do. But in the light of history, it was an error.”

He added, “This report will hopefully put into focus some of the actions taken in the post-9/11 environment.”

U.S. Ambassador James Jones, a democrat from Oklahoma and co-chair of the task force, noted the importance for his country to uphold and value the rule of law. “What we tried to do in this report is to point out where we separated ourselves and our official actions from those values, and how we must get back on track,” he said.

“We believe that this report is the most comprehensive record of detainee treatment across multiple administrations and multiple geographic theatres,” he added.

Laura Pitter, a counterterrorism adviser at Human Rights Watch’s U.S. Programme, told IPS, “It’s an incredibly important report.”

She added, “It’s not some kind of a political witch-hunt, it’s a bipartisan effort to look at things objectively.”

The report’s 11 chapters cover a span of topics, including detention at Guantanamo Bay, the role of psychologists in interrogation techniques, the U.S. rendition programme and the efficacy of torturing for information.

The report also includes character sketches of both victims and perpetrators of torture, such as Captain Albert Shimkus of the U.S. Naval Medical Corps, who was in charge of a medical facility in Guantánamo’s Camp Delta detention centre.

According to the report, Shimkus initially lauded Camp Delta’s treatment of detainees, comparing their medical treatment in Guantánamo to that received by U.S. troops.

But Shimkus now believes the commanders he reported to walled him off from the abuse U.S. detainees suffered. He told the task force that he had been used “as a tool” by those who wanted to draw a misleading picture of Guantánamo.

Asked why President Barack Obama’s administration has kept U.S. treatment of detainees in the shadows, Pitter told IPS, “There doesn’t appear to be the political will to unseal what the U.S. did in its name.”

She added, “It’s very unfortunate because it makes it very difficult for the U.S. to then argue that other countries should abide by these principles when (the U.S.) clearly did not… and then fails to account for it publically.”

Asked how U.S. torture of non-U.S. nationals affects diplomatic relations abroad, Pitter said, “When the U.S. engages in torture and abuse and fails to account for that abuse and hold those responsible for abuse, it undermines U.S. credibility to argue for the same type of adherence to those principles in other countries.”

She continued, “The impact is on U.S. foreign policy because (the U.S.) is working with these nations and these countries on a number of issues and (is undermining) their relationships.”

Pitter said that the U.N. Convention Against Torture and the U.S.’s own domestic laws obligate the U.S. to investigate torture and prosecute those who are responsible. But the report stated that “no CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) personnel have ever been convicted or even charged for numerous instances of torture in CIA custody.”

Pitter noted the existence of a 6,000-page classified report detailing the CIA’s detention and interrogation programme, and called for it to go public.

Pitter also noted that the U.S. is legally obligated to “provide redress to these victims… who were never charged for the crime and are released”.

She argued, “The wrongdoing that was done to them should be acknowledged, and there should be some ability to provide some kind of compensation to them for the years that they lost and the abuse that they suffered… So perhaps that’s the next step.”

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  • Stanley A. Scarano

    Thank you, the Constitution Project, and the members of the Bipartisan Panel for searching for the truth and presenting it to the American people. I want to purchase a copy of the report and read it from cover to cover.

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