By releasing Tuesday a detailed new report on the mistreatment of terror-law detainees, the experts at the Constitution Project aren't really telling us anything we didn't already know about America's descent into the madness of torture. The truth is, we've known for a decade or so that, in our name, terror suspects were tortured for information. And we've known for nearly that long that senior officials within the Bush Administration both authorized such conduct and then sought to protect themselves, and the actual torturers, from liability for their conduct.
But that doesn't mean the report isn't important. It is. First, our attention spans being what they are, the "findings and recommendations" made in its 577 pages are vital reminders of what happened, and how, and why; and of how little accountability has ever sprung from one of the darkest episodes in American legal history. If it were up to me, there would be a comprehensive report like this issued every five years or so, just around the time the nation is apt to forget again how fragile the rule of law can be in times of crisis. From the introduction:
Task Force members generally understand that those officials whose decisions and actions may have contributed to charges of abuse, with harmful consequences for the United States' standing in the world, undertook those measures as their best efforts to protect their fellow citizens.
Task Force members also believe, however, that those good intentions did not relieve them of their obligations to comply with existing treaties and laws. The need to respect legal and moral codes designed to maintain minimum standards of human rights is especially great in times of crisis.
It is encouraging to note that when misguided policies were implemented in an excess of zeal or emotion, there was sometimes a cadre of officials who raised their voices in dissent, however unavailing those efforts.
Second, the report is important as a bipartisan expression of disdain for the poor judgments made by executive branch officials, as well as those made by members of Congress, in the formation, implementation, and justification of these torture policies. Nor was blame restricted to the realm of government. "The architects of the detention and interrogation regimes sought and were given crucial support from people in the medical and legal fields," the report concludes. "This implicated profound ethical questions for both professions ..." Republicans signed onto these conclusions. So did Democrats.