Report: Post-9/11 Torture “Indisputable” and “Unprecedented”

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Guantanamo Sept. 11 Trial
In this photo reviewed by the U.S. Department of Defense, towers overlooking a U.S. detention facility are silhouetted against a morning sunrise at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba, Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Toronto Star, Michelle Shephard, Pool)

A new report from an independent task force finds that the Bush administration committed torture. The decision to do so, made by top officials and the president himself, was unprecedented. “[T]here 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 advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody,” writes the U.S. Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment.

The task force, an eleven-person team led by former Congressman Asa Hutchinson, a Republican and an undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security during the Bush administration, and former Democratic Congressman James R. Jones, sought to piece together “an accurate and authoritative account of how the United States treated people its forces held in custody as the nation mobilized to deal with a global terrorist theat.” The New York Times called the report “the most ambitious independent attempt to date to assess the detention and interrogation programs.”

In the years since 2001, journalists, lawyers and activists have been unable to get the Central Intelligence Agency, Justice Department and Bush administration to state unequivocally that the interrogation tactics used on detainees constituted torture. The Obama administration chose not to commission an official study of interrogation and detention tactics, saying it was unproductive to “look backwards.” But it is “indisputable,” the report’s authors conclude, that torture occurred at Guantánamo, the C.I.A.’s so-called black sites and other war-zone detention centers.

Dr. Albert Shimkus, Commanding Officer of the Guantanamo Bay field hospital, leaves a tent after speaking to reporters at the U.S. Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2002. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Dr. Albert Shimkus, leaves a tent after speaking to reporters at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Feb. 28, 2002. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

One of the most fascinating chapters of the task force’s report is a profile of retired Navy Captain Albert Shimkus, now a faculty member at the U.S. Naval War College. For a while in the early 2000s, Shimkus was one of the faces of Guantánamo as officials sought to give the press more access to the prison. Captain Shimkus oversaw the hospital for the prisoners there, and took great pride in showing that prisoners received top-notch treatment. “They were, he enthusiastically asserted, receiving care equivalent to that given to America’s own fighting men and women,” the report’s authors write. But a few years later, Shimkus came to believe that his commanders had hidden the truth. Today he is deeply embarrassed about the role he unwittingly played in covering up the torture inflicted on Guantánamo’s prisoners.

From the Task Force’s profile of Shimkus:

As he has looked back, Shimkus has pondered whether he could have or should have done anything differently. In response to a question from Task Force staff, he said that no detainee he came in contact with ever complained to him about abuse. He now realizes that some of the symptoms he observed might well have been the result of abusive interrogations, like dehydration and injuries such as cuts and bruises. But he said that he took the dehydration instances as natural in a tropical climate and thought nothing unusual about the minor injuries (the only injuries were minor during his time). Besides, it was understood that detainees could and would be roughed up permissibly when they refused to come out of their cells and had to be forcibly extracted by teams of soldiers wearing riot gear who went in with force. Shimkus said he believes that an important element in his ignorance as to what was occurring was that he wasn’t looking for any signs of willful abuse. He had assumed there wouldn’t be any.

He is, as distinct from most other senior Guantánamo figures, contrite about his participation and acknowledges some responsibility as he has pondered his own behavior straightforwardly. As to those signs that might have been plainly in view, he said, “there were things I should have picked up on, but didn’t.” While he noted he was not a forensic practitioner, he said that “an astute person would have figured it out, perhaps. I did not.” Shimkus said he understands that because of his role at Guantánamo, especially in serving as a spokesman and vouching for the place, he bears some continued measure of responsibility. “I’m always going to be historically connected with this,” he said wistfully. “This is part of my life now. Forever.”

So he relives it over and over in his courses, hoping it will benefit the senior officers who are his students at the Naval War College. Those chosen to attend the Naval War College are those who are predicted to rise in the Navy, perhaps achieving flag rank. Shimkus said he tells military medical personnel in his classes they must always be prepared to challenge superior officers; most importantly, they should raise questions at the smallest provocation. He tells the student officers that even if it affects their careers, they bear an unavoidable obligation to do so. He recognizes such complaints and inquiries will probably not yield results. “But it will at least get a second look at the situation,” he said. And, most importantly, even if it affects your career, Shimkus tells the officers, they should insist on transparency as to how prisoners in their care are treated by others outside the medical setting.

Read The New York Times article on the report.

Read the report: Constitution Project’s Report on Detainee Treatment

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  • Carl

    When you google torture detainees NEWS today you can see how this report is not getting news attention. News reporting in 2013 America is shocking and shameful. Mr. Moyers: i hope so very much that you will not let this bipartisan report disappear from American consciousness.

  • Mark Smith

    For some reason someone in a VERY high position of power is suppressing anything that may lead to indictments of government officials for violations of the Geneva Convention. The entire country has said that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and others authorized torture. The knowledge of that as a crime should have had an immediate investigation. NOTHING was done for 4 years. That means that those in charge of our country, voted in by us and representing us took it upon themselves to violate some of the most important international laws, and no one in power did , or has done anything to bring them to justice. That MUST change. These men and women MUST be brought to trial to clean Americas record one way or another.

  • brea

    as important and relevant as this is, so too is our current use of “drone warfare”
    against civilians. i fail to see the difference in referring to our “enemies” as
    “terrorist(s)”, when in fact we’re bombing civilians almost daily in an ever increasing
    number of countries all over the world. the criteria for doing this and the authority
    is becoming less stringent by the day!!!!!!!!!! we’re becoming what we wanted STOP!!!!!
    we in fact have become TERRORISTS!!!!!!!!!!

  • Anonymous

    Failing or refusing to prosecute war crimes is an impeachable offense. We should call for both president Obama and past president Bush to be impeached.

    I recently looked for T shirts with an impeach Obama message and found they are all produced by right wing groups who have NO INTEREST in impeaching him for torture or war crimes.

    We need to have an impeach Obama message coming from the left.

  • Anonymous

    Impeach Obama – for war crimes.

  • Pat McIntyre

    Bush and Cheney…..etc. MUST be JAILED for their crimes

  • George Phillips

    For more information on the Bush era and 9/11 and the Bush Administration cover up, you should watch Fahrenheit 9/11…

  • Robert Lyons

    Far too often, this discussion steers clear of mentioning — well beyond the cruel, degrading, and inhumane treatment that was systemic throughout CIA and US military detention facilities during the Bush/Cheney torture horrorshow; well beyond “mere” waterboarding of the “rare three” — those captive prisoners who were tortured to death:

    Down a Dark Road, by Richard Leiby


    The Bush Era Torture-Homicides, by Scott Horton


    The Bush Administration Homicides, by John Sifton


    DOD autopsy reports of captive prisoners who died while in US custody — “Manner of death: Homicide”


    Another element that isn’t commonly understood: Cheney wanted confessions — arguably, false confessions — of the nonexistent ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Reporting (with related links) by Bob Fertik:


    Finally, some American history:

    “Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any [prisoner]. . . I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require. Should it extend to death itself, it will not be disproportional to its guilt at such a time and in such a cause… for by such conduct they bring shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country.”

    ~ George Washington, charge to the Northern Expeditionary Force, Sept. 14, 1775

  • Mike

    republicans hate the constitution and that makes them TRAITORS

  • Gerry Deagle

    For a full explanation of why no one in political office will touch this topic, read ‘Lawless World’ by British international law scholar Philippe Sands.

  • Misanthropic Humanist

    amazing how people forget how religious zealots tortured their prisoners.



  • bobo hater

    People actually still wonder why other countries can’t stand us. Bush and Cheney should be publicly shot. As for this lying piece of crap we have now I think like Saddam some country should come over here and take him out of the white house and feed him to the people. I don’t understand why these bombers keep hurting innocent people. Go bomb the xongress or senate and give us some death tolls to cheer for. Start with chuck schumer please lol

  • Ibrahim Siddiqui

    We are becoming Israel