Transcript: Remarks by Ambassador James Jones on the Constitution Project’s report on detainee treatment – April 16, 2013
Partial transcript of remarks by James Jones, former U.S. Ambassador, on the Constitution Project’s Task Force report on the torture of detainees. The press briefing was held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on April 16, 2013:
…What distinguishes the United States and makes us the envy of the world is our adherence to common values, and one of those most important values is respect and adherence to the rule of law.
And what we tried to do in this report was to point where that – where we separated ourselves in our official actions from those values and we must get back on track.
This week marks the 25th anniversary of President [Ronald] Reagan signing the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In his message to the Senate, President Reagan said that ratification of the convention “will clearly express the United State’s opposition to torture – an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.”
Little could he have known at the time that America would itself engage in this abhorrent practice, particularly in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 2001.
The Constitution Project’s Task Force…was broadly based. It was bipartisan, had all political philosophies covered. We had expertise in all of the realms – professional realms – that were needed to study this issue.
The project was undertaken with the belief that it was important to provide an account as authoritatively and accurately as we could…of how the United States treated people that were held in its custody, which was mobilized to deal with the global terrorist threat.
On taking office, President [Barack] Obama declined to undertake an official study of what happened. Sen. [Patrick] Leahy introduced legislation to establish a truth commission and Congress failed to act on it.
So in many respects, this task force – this report – is the comprehensive examination of the treatment of suspected terrorists that officials in Washington has been reluctant to conduct.
Task force members believe that having an understanding of what occurred during this period of serious threat and the willingness to acknowledge any shortcomings strengthen the nation and equip us to better cope with any future crises.
Ignoring what happened, our reputation as an exemplary practitioner of the rule of law will clearly be damaged.
The task force was made of…a broad cross-section of folks who have been in government, who understand government, who understand military, who understand role of intelligence.
The bios are in your folder but I would like to just take a minute to introduce them at this time.
Dr. Gerald Thomson, the professor emeritus at Columbia University School of Medicine. Richard Epstein is a professor of law at New York University and University of Chicago. Dr. David Gushee, professor of Christian ethics and writer of so many books I could not possibly read them all of Mercer University – clearly an authority and expert in the area of ethics. Dr. Azizah al-Hibri, the professor emerita at University of Richmond School of Law. Gen. David Irvine, who had a distinguished career in intelligence in the military as a brigadier general, was a 4-term Republican legislator from Utah, currently practices law in Salt Lake City. Tom Pickering, who’s perhaps in our history one of the most distinguished ambassadors and diplomats we’ve ever had, having been an ambassador 7 times and Under-Secretary of State…
This study encompasses a vast amount of information – a result of more than 2 years of search, analysis, and deliberation. It’s based on a thorough examination of available public records and interviews with more than 100 people, including former detainees, military and intelligence officers, interrogators and policymakers.
The task force staff and members conducted on-the-ground fact-finding in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Lithuania, Poland, United Kingdom, and also at Guantanamo Bay.
Although we don’t have subpoena power or access to classified information, we believe that this report is the most comprehensive record of detainee treatment across multiple administration and multiple geographic theaters that’s been published to date.
We also have a dedicated website which went live this morning that has additional supporting information. So at this time, having set the stage for this, I’d like to turn over to the co-chairman of this task force, the former Republican Congressman from Arkansas, the former Under-Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in President George W. Bush’s administration, and someone who added great wisdom and great knowledge to the deliberation of the task force – Asa Hutchinson.
The effects and the consequences – the report looks at the impact of our actions on our relationship with other governments in the world. Of special interest is the extraordinary rendition program.
After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration resolved to use every available means to protect the United States from further attack. This extraordinary rendition program, used previously by President Clinton, quickly became an important tool in that effort.
And in the years since, numerous investigations and inquiries have found evidence of illegal acts in the form of arbitrary detention and torture resulting from the program. These need to be reviewed.
We’ve found an investigation of extraordinary rendition by the task force. They uncovered many new details regarding the black sites in Poland and Lithuania.
In Poland, an official investigation has been hampered by the U.S. government’s refusal to provide any and share any information even as the Polish prosecutors have issued indictments against Polish officials for their role in facilitating the black sites.
In Lithuania, prosecutors face many of the same problems of not being able to get any of the information shared with them from the United States government. And in that particular case, they closed the investigation in 2011, and while they admit that there were black sites there, they had no evidence of what prisoners were detained there.
There have been a number of inquiries into the rendition program in the United Kingdom, including one by the House of Commons and one by the All Party Parliamentary Group headed by Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie. The task force will actually present our findings to them in June.
Due to the growing legal and political consequences of the CIA’s rendition program and network of secret prisons and the fact that officials credibly assert that both programs have been discontinued, the task force recommends that the United States fully comply with its legal obligations under the Convention Against Torture and in cooperating with the pending investigations around the world and these lawsuits.
President Obama’s early executive order also closed the CIA’s black sites. Their effect on the CIA’s rendition of detainees to foreign custody is less clear. So therefore the task force makes specific recommendations of ways to strengthen the process of rules on those renditions and the process of diplomatic assurances from those countries to which they are rendered…
We also looked at the effect of our actions on former detainees. Detainees are not traditionally an object of sympathy and yet many of these detainees who were found not to be guilty of anything that we – even though they did not have a trial – were released and released with virtually no assistance.
- WhatTheFolly.com: Transcript: Remarks by Ambassador James Jones on the Constitution Project’s report on detainee treatment – April 16, 2013
- WhatTheFolly.com: Transcript: Remarks by Asa Hutchinson on the Constitution Project’s report on detainee treatment – April 16, 2013
- WhatTheFolly.com: Transcript: Press briefing Q&A on the Constitution Project’s Task Force report on detainee treatment – April 16, 2013
- The Constitution Project: Detainee Task Force