A Congressional report issued Tuesday confirms allegations that the United States tortured detainees to obtain information in the years after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The report’s introduction calls it “the most comprehensive record of detainee treatment across multiple administrations and multiple geographic theatres yet published,” and wholeheartedly indicts the U.S. government, including its “most senior officials,” for approving and carrying out the torture of detainees.
The study was released by the Task Force on Detainee Treatment, a nonpartisan panel working on behalf of The Constitution Project, an organization founded in 1997 to reform the nation’s “broken criminal justice system.” The report, according to an April 9 press release, is the product of two years of investigation and aims to “provide the American people with a broad understanding of what is known — and what may still be unknown — about the past and current treatment of suspected terrorists detained by the U.S. government during the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations.”
The comprehensive study examines instances of the torture of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay and CIA black sites — areas in which the Central Intelligence Agency has been conducting clandestine interrogation efforts. Each of these sites housed detainees that the US believed to hold information relevant to international terrorism efforts, and the interrogations reflected an attempt to obtain intelligence that might prevent attacks like 9/11 in the future.
One of the most striking revelations from the study is its allegation that the torture used to obtain intelligence from detainees was, despite its brutality, largely unsuccessful: “The Task Force has found no clear evidence in the public record that torture produced more useful intelligence than conventional methods of interrogation, or that it saved lives.” The Task Force criticizes intelligence obtained through torture as too unreliable to be helpful — detainees forced into extreme physical discomfort would be likely to provide false information merely in order to escape further punishment, they argue.
Proponents of extreme interrogation techniques, among them former Vice President Dick Cheney, frequently contend that the intelligence obtained is indeed extremely useful but that its usage is often classified. Although the members of the Task Force on Detainee Treatment were not given access to classified documents while conducting their investigation, they refer to the report of the Senate Intelligence Committee (which was given access to classified material), which corroborates their assertion that intelligence obtained through torture was not helpful to the assassination of Osama Bin Laden or other counterterrorism efforts.
Although many top U.S. officials have evaded blame for the reported treatment of detainees — particularly by refusing to officially consider intensive interrogation techniques as torture, the Task Force on Detainee Treatment states unequivocally that its authors do consider such techniques — among them waterboarding, forced sleep deprivation, and forcing prisoners into stress positions — to constitute torture.
The Task Force also warns that the debate over whether such “cruel and inhumane” techniques constitute torture distracts from what should be the government’s primary goal — namely, the elimination of inhuman interrogation techniques.