NEW YORK — An independent review of the U.S. government's anti-terrorism response after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks found that it was "indisputable" the U.S. engaged in torture and the George W. Bush administration bore responsibility.
The report released Tuesday by the Constitution Project, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, is an ambitious review of the Bush administration's approach to the problems of holding and interrogating detainees after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Brutality has occurred in war before, the report says, "but there is no evidence there had ever before been the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after Sept. 11, directly involving a president and his top advisors on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody."
The Constitution Project surveyed the ways in which prisoners were held and interrogated at Guantanamo Bay, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and at secret CIA "black prisons."
The report is the product of a two-year study based on evidence in the public record. It was conducted by a task force of 11 experts from a broad range of perspectives and professions.
The Constitution Project appointed former Republican and Democratic policymakers and members of Congress, retired generals, judges, lawyers and academics. Among them was co-chairman Asa Hutchinson, Bush's undersecretary for border and transportation security at the Department of Homeland Security from 2003 to 2005. The other co-chairman was former Rep. James R. Jones (D-Okla.).
As a result of the Bush administration's greenlighting of "enhanced interrogation techniques," the report says, "U.S. forces, in many instances, used interrogation techniques on detainees that constitute torture. American personnel conducted an even larger number of interrogations that involved 'cruel, inhuman or degrading' treatment."
But "there is no firm or persuasive evidence that the widespread use of harsh interrogation techniques by U.S. forces produced significant information of value. There is substantial evidence that much of the information adduced … was not useful or reliable," the report says.
A U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Bush, John R. Bolton, called the report "completely divorced from reality" and stressed that the procedures were "lawyered, and lawyered again, and lawyered again."
"The whole point of the Bush administration's review of the techniques was so that no one would be tortured," he said. "The intention was precisely the opposite."