Momentum Grows for 'Independent' Probe Into Bush Administration's Alleged Torture of Detainees

By Penny Starr and Susan Jones | March 17, 2009 | 7:17 AM EDT

A satellite image of the Guantanamo Bay prison facility on the eastern tip of Cuba, supplied by GeoEye, was collected by an IKONOS satellite on Jan. 1, 2009, from 423 miles in space. (AP Photo/GeoEye)

( – The Washington Post is joining the call for the Obama administration and the Democrat-majority Congress to create an “independent” commission to investigate the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere under the Bush administration.
One day after resurrecting an old story about the alleged torture of al-Qaeda prisoners, the Post on Tuesday ran an editorial urging the U.S. to “show itself capable of investigating and fully disclosing its own human rights violations.”
The Post’s editorial follows disclosures that the International Committee of the Red Cross has concluded in a secret report that the U.S. engaged in torture while interrogating terror suspects.
The ICRC has not publicly said that the U.S. engaged in torture, nor has it released its confidential findings.
Instead, Mark Danner, a journalist and professor at the University of California at Berkeley, claims to have obtained a copy of the secret ICRC report that details what happened to the foreign detainees after they were taken into custody. The ICRC interviewed those detainees after they were moved to the Guantanamo Bay prison in 2006.
As the Washington Post noted on Monday, Danner quoted from the secret ICRC report in an article published this week by the New York Review of Books and in an op-ed column in The New York Times.
(Danner is not the first to report on the secret ICRC “torture” report, although the Washington Post gave that impression in its reporting on Monday. In fact, Jane Mayer – in her 2008 book “The Dark Side” -- also mentions details about alleged detainee torture from the same ICRC report that Danner quotes from.)
According to Danner, the ICRC’s secret report accuses the U.S. (the Bush administration) of “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” in its dealings with 14 al-Qaeda suspects. Danner said the ICRC was told by the prisoners themselves about long-term solitary confinement, waterboarding (simulated drowning), denial of solid food, forced stress positions, beatings and other alleged abuse.
Danner has not said how he obtained the report, but ICRC officials denied leaking it.
"We regret that information attributed to the ICRC has been made public,” the ICRC told the Associated Press. “We share our observations and concerns related to U.S. detentions as part of the confidential dialogue we maintain with U.S. authorities and so we do not wish to comment on the substance of the article," said Simon Schorno, a spokesman for the Geneva headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The ICRC on its Web site defends its “confidential” approach to the investigations. “The ICRC does not share confidential information with the media or other third parties, nor does it consent to the publication of such information, because there is always a risk that our observations could be exploited for political gain…,” it says.
Bush administration officials repeatedly have denied torture charges and have said the interrogation techniques used on the detainees were legal, approved by the Justice Department – and effective.
In April 2008, ABC News reported that after one detainee was water-boarded, he gave up valuable information leading to the capture of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammad and fellow 9/11 plotter Ramzi bin al-Shibh.”
Danner’s article and the resulting press coverage of it is the latest push by Bush administration critics to have former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney investigated for alleged abuses.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is leading the charge. Leahy has called for a “truth and reconciliation commission” to investigate alleged abuses by the Bush administration.
“Nothing has done more to damage America’s place in the world than the revelation that this Nation stretched the law and the bounds of executive power to authorize torture and cruel treatment,” Leahy says in a message on his Web site.
Leahy describes his proposed commission as a “middle ground to get to the truth of what went on during the last several years.”
“People with first-hand knowledge would be invited to come forward and share their experiences and insight, not for purposes of constructing criminal indictments, but to assemble the facts.” Leahy wants the process to include subpoena power, and he does not rule out prosecution for perjury.
Leahy’s target seems to be Vice President Dick Cheney. He notes that Cheney continues to insist that “their tactics, including torture, were appropriate and effective.”
But Leahy says it’s important to avoid letting “only one side define history on such important questions.”
Leahy has held one hearing and gathered more than 85,000 signatures in an online petition drive in support of his proposed truth commission, according to his staff. He is still in the process of considering what steps to take next, staffers told
On the campaign trail in April, President Barack Obama responded to a question about whether he thought the Bush administration should be prosecuted for allegedly using torture in its interrogation techniques.
“If crimes have been committed, they should be investigated,” Obama said, adding that it would not be a priority if he were elected. “I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of the Republicans as a partisan witch hunt,” Obama said, “because we’ve got too many problems to solve.”