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Report Finds ‘Indisputable’ Proof That U.S. Tortured Detainees After 9/11

April 16, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
After a two-year investigation, bipartisan legal research and advocacy group the Constitution Project released a report confirming that the United States engaged in torture after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Jeffrey Brown talks to two of the report authors, former congressman James Jones and retired Army Brig. Gen. David Irvine.
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JEFFREY BROWN: It is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture after 9/11. That was the starkest finding in a report released today by the Constitution Project, a bipartisan legal research and advocacy group, after a two-year investigation by a task force of former high-ranking government, military, and law enforcement officials.

Among much else, the report concludes that the nation’s highest officials bear some responsibility for allowing and contributing to the spread of torture, and that information gleaned via harsh interrogation yielded little valuable intelligence. The report also criticizes the Obama administration for what it calls excessive secrecy.

Two members of the task force that produced the report join us now. James Jones, a former Democratic congressman and ambassador to Mexico, co-chaired the group, along with Republican Asa Hutchinson. Also with us is David Irvine, a retired Army Brigadier General and former Republican state legislator.

And welcome to both of you.

FORMER CONGRESSMAN JAMES JONES, D-Okla.: Thank you.

RET. BRIG. GEN. DAVID IRVINE, U.S. Army: Thank you.

JEFFREY BROWN: Jim Jones, indisputable that the United States practiced torture.

At the time, the Justice Department said otherwise, that within very strict rules, this wasn’t torture. What made you say this was?

JAMES JONES: Well, an exhaustive study of the laws of court cases, of the practice, of interviews and all — the summary of all of it was it was indisputable there was torture in many cases.

JEFFREY BROWN: You were — just to be clear, you were — you didn’t have subpoena power here.

JAMES JONES: Right.

JEFFREY BROWN: And so how were you doing it? You said by talking to people?

JAMES JONES: Well, the staff and some of the panel members visited several countries, visited the black sites where some of these were, in Poland, Lithuania, et cetera. They talked to officials. They talked to detainees themselves, and they did an exhaustive research of the law.

And the United States has even brought prosecutions for the very same things that we did in some of those sites.

JEFFREY BROWN: David Irvine, former U.S. Ambassador John Bolton told the AP when the report came out that this report is — quote — “completely divorced from reality.” The procedures were, in his words, “lawyered and lawyered again and lawyered again.”

DAVID IRVINE: I think if anyone takes time to read the report, they will be overwhelmed by the volume of episodes where representatives of our government, our military brutally, brutally tortured many, many people, not just people who were among the worst of the worst, as they had been characterized, but often people who were guilty of nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The claim that this was lawyered to death is an interesting claim, because we have had years and years and decades of experience successfully interrogating prisoners in tactical and strategic interrogations. We have never had to rely on this kind of approach to get the information that we needed to get to protect the country.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, speaking of the information — well, I’m sorry. Go ahead.

JAMES JONES: Well, I was just going to say the lawyering part is one of the criticisms we have.

In past wars, they say that the generals ran the war. The lawyers ran this war to a great extent. And the way — by suspending the Geneva Conventions, which we have adhered to for years, by violating the Convention Against Torture, which President Reagan himself proposed and the Congress passed, and the lawyers tinkering with that in such a way that they didn’t replace it with anything, and so the chain of command, the procedures that would have been in place were basically obliterated because of lawyering.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, a much-debated issue has been what kind of information came from these practices. You say in the report that some former senior officials insist that the techniques did yield valuable information. You conclude otherwise.

DAVID IRVINE: We studied as careful as — carefully as we could from the public record those specific claims.

The problem we had as we looked at those was that the timelines don’t match up. We could not account for the differences, sometimes a matter of days, weeks, even many months, between the critical events of arrest, interrogation, claims of successful gathering of information, and breakup of plots.

There’s no synchronicity to that that justifies the claim that thousands of lives were saved as a consequence of brutal interrogation.

JAMES JONES: Let me just add to that, because we — the — some of the top officials that say that this torture produced effective information, they have the burden of proof. They can’t — we can’t just take their word for it.

We tried to interview several of those, and they refused to be interviewed. So one of the reasons we’re calling for declassifying some of this material is that will say yes or no, it was effective or yes or no there wasn’t torture.

JEFFREY BROWN: And you are critical of the Obama administration in that regard for not declassifying, not pursuing a lot of these things.

JAMES JONES: Right. And we hope they will. We hope they will change their mind.

JEFFREY BROWN: Were you able to talk to any top officials in — among the many people you talked to find out what happened, and, after the fact, after you produced the report, any top Bush era officials about this?

JAMES JONES: We — of course, we just released it today, and I haven’t talked to any of the former Bush administration people.

Obviously, Asa Hutchinson was in the Bush administration, and so this was a tough thing for him to go through. But we came to the unanimous opinion, as reflected in that report.

We did talk to some. The — David — Rizzo was the general counsel of the CIA. He gave an interview. And we had some others in the military that we talked to.

JEFFREY BROWN: But when you say in the report that the nation’s highest officials bear some responsibility for allowing and contributing to the spread of torture, what does that mean? What exactly are you calling for?

DAVID IRVINE: Well, in a couple of instances, number one, the decision to suspend the application of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan was a critical decision that opened the door for all kinds of abuses, because there was nothing put in place thereafter that would tell soldiers, for example, what they could or could not do.

As a consequence, people became unusually creative and crossed the line from lawful to unlawful. The decision to give special permission to the CIA to use enhanced interrogation techniques was a flawed decision. It was based upon a methodology that had been developed by the North Koreans and Chinese in the Korean War as a means of obtaining confessions and false information from American prisoners in those conflicts.

JEFFREY BROWN: Let me just ask you briefly in the short amount of time here, what do you want to happen now? You have waded into some very controversial territory here.

JAMES JONES: Yes.

JEFFREY BROWN: And many officials would simply flat-out disagree with your results.

JAMES JONES: Well, we’re not after a witch-hunt, but we do think the facts need to be laid out there, the American people need to understand it, the Congress needs to understand it, because what we want to do is to get back to the values that we had before those decisions were made, respect for law, respect for our international treaties and conventions.

And it can be achieved again. But I think until — before that can be done, they have to understand the depth of the activities we took in the name of our government.

JEFFREY BROWN: James Jones, David Irvine, thank you both very much.

JAMES JONES: Thank you.