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The Report of The Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment
The Constitution Project
substantially credentialed people on both sides. In this case, the problem is exacerbated by the
fact that among those who insist that the United States did not engage in torture are figures who
served at the highest levels of government, including Vice President Dick Cheney.
But this Task Force is not bound by this convention.
The members, coming from a wide political spectrum, believe that arguments that the nation
did not engage in torture and that much of what occurred should be defined as something less
than torture are not credible.
The second notable conclusion of the Task Force is that the nation’s highest officials
bear some responsibility for allowing and contributing to the spread of torture.
The evidence for this finding about responsibility is contained throughout the report, but it is
distilled in a detailed memo showing the widespread responsibility for torture among civilian
and military leaders. [See Appendix 2] The most important element may have been to declare
that the Geneva Conventions, a venerable instrument for ensuring humane treatment in time
of war, did not apply to Al Qaeda and Taliban captives in Afghanistan or Guantánamo. The
administration never specified what rules would apply instead.
The other major factor was President Bush’s authorization of brutal techniques by the CIA for
selected detainees.
The CIA also created its own detention and interrogation facilities — at several locations
in Afghanistan, and even more secretive “black sites” in Thailand, Poland, Romania and
Lithuania, where the highest value captives were interrogated.
The consequence of these official actions and statements are now clear: many lower-level troops
said they believed that “the gloves were off ” regarding treatment of prisoners. By the end of
2002, at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, interrogators began routinely depriving detainees
of sleep by means of shackling them to the ceiling. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
later approved interrogation techniques in Guantánamo that included sleep deprivation, stress
positions, nudity, sensory deprivation and threatening detainees with dogs. Many of the same
techniques were later used in Iraq.
Much of the torture that occurred in Guantánamo, Afghanistan and Iraq was never explicitly
authorized. But the authorization of the CIA’s techniques depended on setting aside the
traditional legal rules that protected captives. And as retired Marine generals Charles Krulak
and Joseph Hoar have said, “any degree of ‘flexibility’ about torture at the top drops down the
chain of command like a stone — the rare exception fast becoming the rule.”
The scope of this study encompasses a vast amount of information, analysis and events;
geographically speaking, much of the activity studied occurred in three locations outside the
continental United States, two of them war zones. Fact-finding was conducted on the ground
in all three places — Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — by Task Force staff.
Task Force members were directly involved in some of the information-gathering phase of the
investigation, traveling abroad to meet former detainees and foreign officials to discuss the U.S.
program of rendition.
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