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Editorial: Torture history

The history of American experimentation in torture during the last decade is far from written ... and won’t be until more government documentation is declassified.

But part of that story has been revealed with the publication of a 577-page report by the bipartisan Constitution Project. Through the careful and thorough investigation of available information and documentation, as well as interviews of ex-detainees, military and intelligence officers and policymakers — in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere — parts of the puzzle have been put together.

What the task force — led by former U.S. House members Asa Hutchinson, Republican of Arkansas, and James Jones, Democrat of Oklahoma — re-affirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt is that this nation, under the administration of President George W. Bush, engaged in torture of suspected terrorists following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The study shows that the “enhanced interrogation” techniques and other methods of handling terror suspects were indeed torture. This includes the use of waterboarding, the procedure where one is subjected to near drowning, as well as other treatment of the sort that when used elsewhere, has been condemned by the U.S.

“After conducting our own two-year investigation, weighing the credibility of all sources and studying the current public record, we have come to the regrettable, but unavoidable, conclusion that the United States did indeed engage in conduct that is clearly torture,” Hutchinson said last week.

No one can say that Hutchinson was a liberal inclined to think the worst. He was, after all, an undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security under Bush.

And for those who want to say that the Project was predisposed to be some kind of political piling on when it comes to Bush, the report also is critical of some decisions made during President Clinton’s time in office, including “outsourcing” interrogation to countries that had no qualms about using torture.

And the report also finds fault with President Barack Obama, for his willingness to use drone attacks as well as the wall of secrecy that his administration maintains about these past practices.

The report also concludes that “The Task Force has found no clear evidence in the public record that torture produced more useful intelligence than conventional methods of interrogation, or that it saved lives.”

This report is a significant step in peeling away the cloud of semantics and secrecy that has surrounded this terrible government-sanctioned practice.

And it should serve as a motivation for Americans to insist it never happens again.

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