NEW YORK - A nonpartisan commission's review of America's anti-terrorism response after the 9/11 attacks reported Tuesday that it is "indisputable" the United States engaged in the practice of torture and the Bush White House bears responsibility.
The report by the Constitution Project is an ambitious review of the Bush administration's approach to the problems of holding detainees, interrogation and counter-intelligence after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The report says brutality has occurred in war before, "But there is no evidence there had ever before been the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after September 11, directly involving a president and his top advisers 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 Constitution Project's report is the product of a two-year study based on evidence in the public record. It was conducted by a bipartisan task force who came from a broad range of ideological perspectives and professions It includes both former Republican and Democratic policymakers and members of Congress, retired generals, judges, lawyers, and academics.
Among them was co-chairman Asa Hutchinson, who was President George W. Bush's Under-Secretary 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, a Democrat.
Much of the legal justification for what was called "enhanced interrogation" by some, but torture by the Constitution Project, was drafted by John Yoo, at the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.
The Constitution Project report cites Alberto Mora, the general counsel of the Navy, as being one of the senior officials troubled by the expanded interrogation techniques, and quotes him as asking Yoo whether the president could lawfully order a detainee to be tortured.
"Yes, the president could authorize torture, he said was Yoo's response," according to the report. "Yoo said that whether the techniques should be used wasn't a legal question, but rather it was a policy question," the report says.
A call for response to Yoo, who now teaches at the University of California-Berkeley, was not immediate answered. The Constitution Project said that he did not communicate with them in the preparation of their report.
As a result of the Bush administration's green-lighting 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."
"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 Constitution Project report said.
The executive director of Boston-based Physicians for Human Rights, Donna McKay, said that her group "has long contended that interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and stress positions did in fact constitute torture. We are gratified that a highly respected bipartisan panel led by two former members of Congress uniformly concurs. Their report should put to rest any lingering doubt about the severity of the abuse that took place at Guantnamo Bay and other US detention facilities."
The review found "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."
"There are, nonetheless, strong assertions by some former senior government officials that the use of those techniques did, in fact, yield valuable intelligence that resulted in operational and strategic successes. But those officials say that the evidence of such success may not be disclosed for reasons of national security," the report noted.
"History shows that the American people have a right to be skeptical of such claims, and to decline to accept any resolution of this issue based largely on the exhortations of former officials who say, in essence, 'Trust us' or 'If you knew what we know but cannot tell you,'" the Constitution Project said.
"The Task Force believes there was no justification for the responsible government and military leaders to have allowed those lines to be crossed. 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," it said.
"Democracy and torture cannot peacefully coexist in the same body politic," the report said. "The Task Force also believes and hopes that publicly acknowledging this grave error, however belatedly, may mitigate some of those consequences and help undo some of the damage to our reputation at home and abroad."
President Barack Obama has declined to investigate interrogation methods under the administration of his predecessor, George W. Bush.
"Despite this extraordinary aspect, the Obama administration declined, as a matter of policy, to undertake or commission an official study of what happened, saying it was unproductive to 'look backwards' rather than forward," the Constitution Project's report said.
The counterterrorism adviser at Human Rights Watch, Laura Pitter, said that "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. The indisputable evidence of torture clearly raises the question: what will the US government do about it?"
On the Web: The Constitution Project's report: