Carroll County Times
Carroll County

Tom Zirpoli: Torture history deserves accounting

"The Torture Report: What the Documents say About America's Post-9/11 Torture Program," by Larry Siems, is an initiative funded by the ACLU with the goal of providing the American public with, according to Siems, "The full account of the Bush administration's torture program."

The report outlines the author's review of nearly 140,000 formerly classified documents about torture by Americans since 2001. The torture was conducted in many places around the world, including on American soil, by American civilian and military personnel. Documents show that the torture was ordered by the president, vice president and others within the George W. Bush administration.

Six days after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, President Bush sent a 12-page Memorandum of Notification to his National Security Council and authorized the CIA to set up and run secret prisons around the world where individuals would be tortured. In doing so, Bush broke international and U.S. laws banning torture under any circumstances, even war, and ordered military and civilian agents to break the law.

But not everyone complied with the illegal orders. Many FBI, CIA and military officials refused. They complained about the illegal activities, documented their observations and tried to convince members of the Bush administration that the torture was not yielding useful information. Siems writes that "Over and over again, in Afghanistan and Iraq, in Guantanamo, in secret CIA black sites and at CIA headquarters, in the Pentagon, and in Washington, men and women recognized the torture for what it was and refused to remain silent. They objected, protested, and fought to prevent, and then to end, these illegal and immoral interrogations. While the president and his top advisers approved and encouraged the torture of prisoners, there was dissent in every agency, at every level."

In response, the White House ordered lawyers at the Justice Department to issue memos stating that international and U.S. laws "did not apply" or that the law "has been changed." But, of course, these memos were lies to encourage others to break the law.

Americans carried out the majority of the torturing, but the Bush administration also asked other countries to torture for us. And while no American leaders are being prosecuted for their role, some countries that helped us are now facing the facts and taking action. In Poland, for example, where Americans set up one of many secret CIA prisons, their constitution states that, "No one may be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment." Yet their former top intelligence officer allowed the U.S. to run a secret prison and torture people in Poland. He has now been charged by his own Polish government for violating their national laws against torture.

Will American officials ever be charged?

Siems found that at least some of the prisoners were tortured to death. He found memos from Poland officials discussing what to do with the bodies of prisoners killed in the secret American camp there.

It has become clear that Bush officials knew that their behavior was in violation of both U.S. and international laws. Documents show that innocent prisoners were kept in prison so they could not talk about their treatment. Siems found that evidence of torture, including pictures and video recordings, was destroyed. But they could not destroy all the evidence. American civilian and military personnel documented the abuse in emails, in letters, in complaints to their supervisors and in independent investigations.

President Barack Obama ordered the end to all torture as soon as he became president. He followed former President Gerald Ford's philosophy of not wanting to drag the nation through an investigation of the previous administration's illegal activities. But while our sins may be ignored for now, thanks to the efforts of Siems and others, they will not be erased from history.

Tom Zirpoli writes from Westminster. His column appears Wednesdays. Email him at