Legal memos used by the Bush administration authorized, among other things, the use of waterboarding, an interrogation technique that the U.S. previously prosecuted as a war crime. An internal CIA report shows that some interrogators even exceeded the guidance provided by those memos. And gruesome autopsy reports by Army medical examiners conclude that the deaths of dozens of detainees in U.S. custody were “homicides” at the hands of their captors.
But the stain of torture extends far beyond the damage to our moral standing in the world. The use of torture — and our failure to engage in a formal legal reckoning — has contaminated our legal system.
Despite overwhelming evidence of torture, not a single victim of that torture has had his day in an American court. Instead, the government has invoked the states secrets privilege, immunity doctrines, and other legal arguments to prevent any court from ruling on the lawfulness of the Bush administration’s torture program.
And while the Obama administration has repudiated the use of torture and prohibited use of the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” to this day, the administration stands by its political calculation that the nation must look forward and not backward. The Justice Department has initiated a “preliminary review” of certain cases of detainee abuse by the CIA, but years after its initiation, the exact scope of that investigation remains unclear.
Without a formal legal reckoning with torture, there is a very real danger that torture will be part of our future and not just our past.
Honor Those Who Said "No" to Torture (2011): Top officials of the Bush Administration approved the torture and abuse of prisoners, but brave men and women throughout the military and the government challenged the policies, called out abuses, and worked to end the use of coerced evidence. These courageous individuals should be honored for their integrity and their commitment to real American values. So far, though, our official history has honored only those who approved torture, not those who rejected it.
Accountability for Torture The ACLU is committed to restoring the rule of law. We can't sweep torture and abuse of detainees in U.S. custody under the rug. Accountability for torture is a legal, political, and moral imperative.
Architects of the Bush Administration’s Torture Program Although much has been revealed about the Bush administration's torture program, those in the upper echelons of the administration who conceived of, crafted, and approved the program have almost entirely escaped accountability. The graphic below diagrams the participation of these high-level officials in the torture program based upon publicly available documents.
The Torture Report (2009): The Torture Report aims to give the full account of the Bush administration’s torture program. It brings together everything we know from government documents, investigations, press reports, witness statements and other publications into a single narrative.