The US government used torture and other illegal interrogation methods in the war on terrorism, an independent task force concluded in a report released on Tuesday.
The group called on the Obama administration and Congress to acknowledge that “the authorization and practice of torture and cruelty after September 11 was a grave error.”
The task force, an arm of the nonpartisan Constitution Project, also urged the government to beef up US laws to make clear that torture and cruel and inhuman treatment of detainees are federal crimes.
“It is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture,” the group said in a 560-page report issued after two years of research. The task force said torture occurred “in many instances and across a wide range of theaters.”
It added: “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.”
The US government, while acknowledging the use of harsh and coercive interrogation methods against terrorism suspects in the past, has consistently denied that the specially authorized techniques amounted to torture or illegal conduct.
The Constitution Project task force, composed of a bipartisan group of former senior government officials, rejected those denials.
“This finding, offered without reservation, is not based on any impressionistic approach to the issue,” the report says. “Instead, this conclusion is grounded in a thorough and detailed examination of what constitutes torture in many contexts.”
Task force members said they compared US interrogation techniques with known instances of torture – including cases in which the US government accused foreign regimes of torture. “The United States may not declare a nation guilty of engaging in torture and then exempt itself from being so labeled for similar if not identical conduct,” the report says.
The task force was co-chaired by James Jones, a former Democratic congressman from Oklahoma and the ambassador to Mexico under President Clinton, and Asa Hutchinson, a former Republican congressman from Arkansas and undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security under President Bush.
“After conducting our own two-year investigation, weighing the credibility of all sources and studying the current public record, we have come to the regrettable, but unavoidable, conclusion that the United States did indeed engage in conduct that is clearly torture,” Mr. Hutchinson said.
He told reporters that his task force did not have access to classified information, but that a great deal of information about the detention and interrogation programs was available to the group.
Hutchinson called upon government officials at the White House and in Congress to make a broader range of classified documents available to help expose the full story of US treatment of terrorism suspects.
Laura Pitter, a counterterrorism adviser at Human Rights Watch, praised the work of the task force.
“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,” she said. “The indisputable evidence of torture clearly raises the question: what will the US government do about it?”
She added: “The American people deserve a full accounting of the torture conducted in their name.”
The task force report won praise from others as well.
“The United States engaged in a policy of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in violation of law, international treaties, and our basic values,” said Linda Gustitus, president of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.
“Our job now is to account for those acts, make amends for them, and put in place the laws that will ensure that they never happen again,” she said in a statement.