A Public Accounting for Post-9/11 Abuses
By JOANNE MARINER
|Monday, Dec. 01, 2008|
"We do not torture," President Bush has stated emphatically, time and again, whenever information about the abuse of detainees has roused the public.
"We did not torture," said White House Press Secretary Dana Perino last month, in response to a journalist's question about the possibility of future criminal prosecutions of Bush administration officials.
But torture most certainly did occur. Notwithstanding the many official denials, the severe mistreatment of people in US custody has been a hallmark of this presidency.
In some instances, as when photos of naked, humiliated, and terrified detainees at Abu Ghraib were leaked to the public in 2004, the Bush Administration tried to limit the damage by claiming that the photos showed the illegal actions of a few "bad apples." In other instances, as when the administration admitted that the CIA had waterboarded at least three terrorist suspects, government officials refused to acknowledge that the techniques that had been used constitute torture (even though waterboarding has been prosecuted as a crime by US courts for over 100 years).
While much is now known about post-9/11 abuses, the full story -- without official obfuscation -- still needs to be told.
A Commission of Inquiry
With the new administration entering office, it is time for a full, public, and objective accounting of the scale of post-9/11 abuses, why and how they occurred, and who was responsible for authorizing and facilitating them. Although several congressional inquiries, military reports, and Department of Justice investigations have looked into particular aspects of these questions, there has never been a comprehensive public inquiry into post-9/11 abuses.
Investigations to date have been incomplete and imperfect. Most crucially, they have either lacked independence from the executive branch or have not been granted access to necessary documentary and testimonial evidence.
During the first six months of his term, President Obama should work with Congress to set up a commission of inquiry to investigate, document, and publicly report on post-9/11 counterterrorism-related abuses. The commission should specifically address the question of who should be held accountable for these abuses and how accountability can be achieved.
Necessary Attributes of an Effective Commission
In order to carry out its mandate fairly and effectively, the investigatory commission should meet the following criteria:
"We Do Not Torture"
A key function of the commission should be to make informed recommendations about how to ensure that the abuses of the past seven years are not repeated. It is time to make the promise of "we do not torture" a reality.