- What would a commission do?
- Who would serve on a commission?
- Didn’t President Obama ban torture?
- Hasn’t Congress already investigated torture by U.S. personnel?
- What is the difference between prosecution and a commission?
- Isn’t it time to look forward and not backward?
A non-partisan, independent commission is necessary to fully understand the use of torture approved by the U.S. government after 9/11. A commission would examine how policies authorizing torture, rendition and detention were developed and implemented, which departed from America’s core values. These acts undermined national security and alienated the country’s allies.
The commission would issue recommendations after its investigation to ensure that the U.S. upholds 1) the absolute prohibition of torture and 2) the nation’s commitment to human rights, national security and the rule of law. The policy recommendations would ensure that the abuses of the past never happen again.
The non-partisan commission would be comprised of well-respected Americans known for their integrity, independence and impartiality. The commission would conduct its inquiry independent from government. It would be equipped with a staff and adequate resources in order to carry out its mission.
One of President Obama’s first acts in office was to take steps to ensure that the U.S. will uphold its obligations to prohibit torture and cruel treatment. He issued an executive order, which set a single standard across government agencies, mandating that individuals will be interrogated humanely, reaffirming the domestic and international prohibition of torture. The order also repudiated legal memos written during the Bush administration authorizing torture and abuse. This order will stay in place only until this President – or another President – decides to change it.
The President made an important commitment to end the use of torture; however, accountability for past acts of torture is essential. A commission must compile a full record to examine how official policies authorizing unlawful conduct were developed and why. A commission would examine institutional, systemic failures and recommend what steps must be taken to ensure that past violations are never repeated.
Many different government entities, such as the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence have reviewed or are currently reviewing evidence of torture and abuse by U.S. personnel. However, these inquiries examine very specific issues; no one is looking collectively at the full story and players from all relevant government agencies. An independent commission would address many critical questions that remain unanswered concerning decisions and missteps cutting across government agencies and branches.
An incomplete picture limits the nation’s ability to move forward, confident that future counterterrorism policies reflect lessons learned from past missteps. A commission would restore confidence in democratic institutions, reaffirm Constitutional values, provide a full assessment and issue recommendations.
A commission would conduct a comprehensive review, a broad inquiry examining institutional failures, collective decision-making and the consequences of policies. The commission’s findings will provide public awareness of past incidents and its forward-looking recommendations can strengthen national security policy and provide redress for victims.
Criminal prosecution by the Department of Justice is a legal process, focused on whether an individual has committed a crime. A commission and prosecution are compatible with one another; they have separate, complementary functions and roles.
By establishing a commission, President Obama can empower an independent body to assess the past and help shape future policies that keep America safe, consistent with American laws and values. The nation can only look forward with a complete understanding of past policies and their consequences. We must take account of our mistakes in order to learn from them and move forward.