The Senate Select Intelligence Committee report on torture has revived debate worldwide about the US use of torture in the aftermath of 9/11.
Some have applauded the report—including organizations such as Human Rights Watch and the Center for Constitutional Rights, which have pushed for a full accounting of the use of methods prohibited by US and international law, as well as accountability for those who made such methods official state policy. They also note significant shortcomings—including the Senate’s failure to release the full report, a four-year delay in the release of the summary and the redaction of key information, including details that would help establish a clear chain of command.
Those who supported the torture policy—including some of those who put it in motion, such as former Vice President Dick Cheney—have decried the report, accusing its authors of bias and reasserting their claims that torture helped keep the United States safe from further terrorist attacks (a claim never proven). But they do not deny that torture was used.
As an academic and longtime human rights activist, I welcome the release of the Senate report. Hard-nosed fact-finding and truth-seeking is important in the aftermath of atrocity. A report of this nature can help set the record straight about what happened and determine, based on careful review of the evidence, whether such atrocities were the doing of a few “bad apples” or of systematic state policy. This is important even though it was known long before release of the report that the US use of torture was indeed official state policy during the Bush years.
A report like this can also generate national debate about controversial “interrogation” methods, help citizens evaluate and re-evaluate their views of such methods and determine whether these assessments should be followed by other actions—including, potentially, criminal prosecutions.