The Constitution Project released a report on detainee treatment. Don't expect it to change anything. Here are a couple of findings:
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. Both categories of actions violate U.S. laws and international treaties. Such conduct was directly counter to values of the Constitution and our nation.
The nation’s most senior officials, through some of their actions and failures to act in the months and years immediately following the September 11 attacks, bear ultimate responsibility for allowing and contributing to the spread of illegal and improper interrogation techniques used by some U.S. personnel on detainees in several theaters. Responsibility also falls on other government officials and certain military leaders.
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 from the use of such techniques was not useful or reliable.
It is now evident that Congress did little to fulfill its primary obligations in addressing how the United States treated prisoners from Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries during the first few years of the Bush administration. At the very least, the first job of Congress in such a situation is oversight, finding out what may be going on and informing the public, through hearings and reports. This was in notable contrast to two previous periods in U.S. history. In 1902, regarding Filipinos, and 1949, regarding Germans, it had confronted the unpopular issue of prisoner abuse openly. But this time Congress stepped aside, effectively ceding that task to the press.
Concerning the Obama Administration:
The Justice Department’s rules for cases involving classified information greatly restrict prosecutors’ ability to act without the approval of the original classifying agency. Without CIA approval, classified information about the circumstances of a detainee’s death could not be discussed while interviewing witnesses, or presented to the grand jury. This may have been a formidable obstacle to prosecutions for detainee deaths in CIA custody, though it is impossible to know if it was decisive without public disclosure of the reasons DOJ declined to prosecute.
In a number of other civil and criminal cases, the Obama administration has robustly defended the CIA’s prerogative to keep information about its treatment of detainees secret. Obama’s Department of Justice successfully argued for the dismissal of Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc.,142 a suit by five rendition victims against a Boeing subsidiary that allegedly participated in flying them to torture overseas, on the basis of the state-secrets privilege. It also successfully opposed Supreme Court review of another rendition victim’s suit, Arar v. Ashcroft.143
The Obama administration has also criminally prosecuted more individuals under the Espionage Act for providing classified information to the press than all other presidential administrations combined. From its passage in 1917 until 2009, the Espionage Act was used in three criminal prosecutions. It has been used six times under the Obama administration, most recently to prosecute CIA officer John Kiriakou for unauthorized disclosures to journalists about the identities of CIA personnel involved in the interrogation and torture of Abu Zubaydah. Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in prison for these revelations.
Why won't this report result in anything more than a short article in the local paper? Because the people who are outraged by it already were in the first place. The media was just as complicit as it was compliant. The last thing Congress wants to do is revisit its shameful role of abdicated responsibilities. And the Obama administration is hell bent on keeping everything secret.
There are a number of possible reasons the United States will not be judged by the same standards it applied to war criminals in the past who committed the same offenses. Exceptionalism. Avoidance. Denial. Hubris. It doesn't matter. The details may be kept secret by the Obama administration, but it's a contemptible secret privy to us all.
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