It is indisputable that agents of our government used severe torture techniques on detainees suspected of having terrorist ties. That is the headline offered in a report of an independent panel's intense two-year investigation into America's treatment of detainees.
Most of us already knew -- or at least suspected -- that to be the case, with possibly the notable exception of former Vice President Dick Cheney. But to have it confirmed by a credible source is agonizing.
The Constitution Project's Task Force on Detainee Treatment further found that the interrogation techniques used against detainees were "cruel, inhuman or degrading" and as such violated U.S. laws as well as international treaties and ran counter to the values of the Constitution.
The report also said that, despite assertions to the contrary in the movie "Zero Dark Thirty," little credible information was derived from such techniques, especially as to the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.
The panel acknowledges it had no subpoena power and that there remain people who claim national security prevents disclosure of what was truly learned, but the panel decided to accept the assertions of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which had access to sensitive documents, and found no connection between the interrogations and the discovery of bin Laden.
The Constitution Project -- a watchdog group that has been around for about 15 years -- undertook the detainee project because no one else would.
Both President Barack Obama and Congress refused to do so. Obama said it would be "unproductive to look backward" and Congress rejected a proposal by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to conduct such an examination.
We don't find it unproductive. In fact, we think an honest self-examination is vital to the very essence of democracy and helps to inform future decisions. For example, the report extensively examines issues surrounding the infamous U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; whether it should be closed and, if so, what should be done with the detainees who are there. One would think the president, Congress and the nation should read this report before making decisions.
The lengthy report is nonpartisan, fair and doesn't bash individuals. It correctly notes that while much of the rendition activity was prompted by Sept. 11 fear, and occurred during the Bush administration, such practices began in the Clinton administration. It also acknowledges that those who undertook questionable measures did so "as their best efforts to protect their fellow citizens."
The Constitutional Project is not some cleverly disguised policy group or an ivory tower think tank. It conducted on-the-ground fact-finding in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Lithuania, Poland, the United Kingdom and Guantánamo Bay.
The group is co-chaired by Asa Hutchison, a former Republican congressman who served in the Bush administration, and James Jones, a former Democrat congressman who served as chairman of the House Budget Committee and later as U.S. ambassador to Mexico. The task force membership list even includes such luminaries as William Sessions, FBI director under three presidents.
We believe that every American should read the findings of this report. It can be obtained online at www.detaineetaskforce.org.