‘Indisputable’ Evidence Requires Declassification, Official Inquiry
April 16, 2013
The finding of torture by a diverse, bipartisan task force, without subpoena power and looking solely at the public record, shows the need for an official US investigation into detainee abuse. The indisputable evidence of torture clearly raises the question: what will the US government do about it?
Laura Pitter, counterterrorism advisor

A bipartisan study finding “indisputable” evidence of torture for which the highest United States officials bear responsibility should spur the US government to thoroughly investigate detainee abuse since September 11, 2001, and provide redress to victims.

The 560-page study, “The Report of the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment,” released on April 16, 2013, is the product of a two-year study based on evidence in the public record. It was conducted by a bipartisan task force assembled by The Constitution Project, a public interest organization. Task force members came from a broad range of ideological perspectives and professions, and include both former Republican and Democratic policymakers and members of Congress, retired generals, judges, lawyers, and academics.

“The finding of torture by a diverse, bipartisan task force, without subpoena power and looking solely at the public record, shows the need for an official US investigation into detainee abuse,” said Laura Pitter, counterterrorism advisor at Human Rights Watch. “The indisputable evidence of torture clearly raises the question: what will the US government do about it?”

The broad scope of the task force findings points to the need for a comprehensive government-sanctioned investigation through a commission of inquiry to create the definitive record of post-September 11 detainee abuse by the US government, Human Rights Watch said.

The task force reviewed extensive public documentation and conducted over 100 interviews, but due to its private status did not have subpoena power or access to classified documents.

The report concludes that, “The nation’s most senior officials … bear ultimate responsibility for allowing and contributing to the spread of illegal and improper interrogation techniques used by some US personnel on detainees in several theaters.” It also finds that much information obtained through torture and other ill-treatment was not useful or reliable. The report’s findings are largely consistent with Human Rights Watch’s own investigations.

The US is obligated under both domestic and international law to investigate allegations of torture, appropriately prosecute those responsible, and ensure effective redress for victims, Human Rights Watch said. No senior US officials have been held accountable for their role in authorizing and implementing torture or other ill-treatment of terrorism suspects. The US government has repeatedly sought and secured dismissals of lawsuits brought by former detainees in US federal court, claiming that litigating the cases would harm national security.

In December, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence adopted a 6,000-page classified report detailing the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, which the task force report linked to torture and other ill-treatment. But the Senate report, and much other information about the treatment of terrorism suspects in US custody, remains classified.

The Select Committee on Intelligence should seek – and the Obama administration should support – declassification and release of the Senate report as a first step toward providing the public with an official accounting of US government policy and practice. Making the report public would also counter misinformation about the supposed value of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” Human Rights Watch said.

The US government should pursue credible criminal investigations against US officials implicated in torture. If it does not, other countries should prosecute US officials involved in crimes against detainees in accordance with international law, Human Rights Watch said.

“The American people deserve a full accounting of the torture conducted in their name,” Pitter said. “The work of this private, bipartisan commission sends a clear message that full disclosure is an issue of great importance to all Americans, no matter their political leanings.”