Bipartisan Elites: Yes, the Bush Administration Totally Tortured

Centrist, establishment types detail brutal, illegal interrogation tactics in a new reckoning.
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A dozen years after 9/11, many movement conservatives still want to have it both ways. They want to insist that the Bush Administration was correct to strap prisoners down, prevent them from breathing, and force water into their lungs to terrify them with the sensation of drowning; that it was proper to intimidate them with dogs, slam heads into walls, and deprive them of sleep and darkness; but also that these tactics didn't amount to torture, just "enhanced interrogations." They would strenuously object if George W. Bush's obituary mentioned that, under his leadership, the United States government systematically and illegally tortured people.

Establishment media is averse to the "t" word too. Partisan and ideological disagreements about whether the Bush Administration engaged in torture have caused newspapers like The New York Times to seek out characterizations that permit them to remain neutral players in the controversy.

On Tuesday, the notion that the Bush Administration didn't torture, and the notion that it is appropriate for media organizations to remain neutral on that question, suffered what should be a fatal blow.  

The Task Force on Detainee Treatment, a bipartisan commission convened by the Constitution Project, has just released a comprehensive investigative report on "detainee treatment," stating in plain, certain terms that torture was perpetrated. The 576-page report begins with a plainspoken introductory statement summarizing its findings. Only two passages are boldfaced. "Perhaps the most important or notable finding of this panel," it states, "is that it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture." And "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."

These conclusions aren't novel or groundbreaking.

Human-rights groups, legal observers, and journalists, among many others, have long chronicled the brutal torture perpetrated as a direct result of specific Bush Administration decisions.

Their careful findings have been correct, and the dearth of attention they've received is shameful. The Detainee Task Force report is nevertheless noteworthy. Its findings, based on a thorough two-year investigation, are endorsed by members in good standing of the U.S. establishment. Americans who've studied the facts have long known that Team Bush tortured. Now people who require bipartisan consensus from D.C. elder statesmen to accept a conclusion can stop regarding the torture question as unsettled and confront the fact that torture happened. It happened on George W. Bush's watch, and "high officials" were partly responsible for it. Lots of people broke the law, since torture is illegal, and haven't ever been punished.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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