The United States never had the equivalent of Canada’s inquiry into the deportation and torture of Maher Arar. It never had a thorough public examination into the abuses of the war on terror. But, as of this week, it has a bipartisan report on the use of torture.
The 577-page report from a task force set up by the Constitution Project, an independent group that seeks consensus answers to tough constitutional questions, is a landmark in several respects. It sets down as an indisputable fact that torture occurred many times after 9/11, more systematically than at any time in the country’s history. It puts the responsibility at the highest levels of the U.S. government. And because it is a bipartisan report, it cannot be dismissed as mere politics.
It is also very timely. It was published just after the bombing of the Boston marathon revived anxieties about deadly, unseen enemies. Imagine if similar bombings were to occur around the U.S. Would harsh interrogation measures be put into use? Should they be?
The report’s reply is an unequivocal no. Although the U.S. felt extraordinary anxiety after 9/11, there was “no justification” for torture. “Doing so damaged the standing of our nation, reduced our capacity to convey moral censure when necessary and potentially increased the danger to U.S. military personnel taken captive.”
What’s more, it didn’t work, the report says. It disputes suggestions that torture led to Osama bin Laden’s capture. And it says torture often produces false leads that waste investigators’ time.
Asa Hutchinson, the co-chair of the committee that wrote the report, held important security positions under president George W. Bush. He concluded that “the United States has a historic and unique character, and part of that character is that we do not torture.”
The report also denounces the treatment of Mr. Arar, the Canadian citizen whom the U.S. deported in 2002, and says the source of Syria’s “assurances” not to torture him was never clear.
All societies behave differently under stress, the report says. All may act in ways that conflict with their true character and values. Officials acting in good faith, up to and including Mr. Bush, made the decision to torture; they disregarded the essential values of the nation they sought to protect, the report says. They were wrong.