The ACLU launched a Torture Database today, on the twenty fifth anniversary of the Convention Against Torture going into effect. That international treaty, theoretically, set the limits to just how enhanced interrogation techniques can get.
Though the Torture Database includes exclusively documents from the Bush Administration, in a bit of a role reversal, it’s Obama’s fault. The ACLU’s Alexander Abdo writes:
President Obama campaigned against the use of torture, but even before assuming office, he dismissed the possibility of investigating senior officials who authorized it. He explained that "we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards." The explanation was as political as it was illogical: all crimes occur in the past. Looking forward and not backward means simply ignoring crimes…
The administration has also been unsympathetic to claims for redress brought by torture victims. At the insistence of the executive branch, American courts have dismissed on procedural grounds every single lawsuit brought by victims of torture seeking official recognition of their ordeal and redress for their suffering. Perhaps the most pernicious of these procedural obstacles is the "state secrets" privilege, which the administration has invoked to shield grotesque abuses of prisoners from any judicial review.
Although the current administration released critically important documentation of torture and abuse of detainees (many in response to Freedom of Information Act litigation by the American Civil Liberties Union and other public interest organizations), it has staunchly opposed disclosure of other key records. It continues to withhold hundreds of CIA cables describing the use of waterboarding and other harsh techniques, hundreds of photographs of detainee abuse throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, and the presidential memorandum that authorized the CIA to establish its secret prisons overseas.
The initial stream of disclosures dried up as the administration took ever-more extreme positions in court, arguing, for example, that it could suppress descriptions of conduct that it conceded was unlawful. The result is that the public record of American torture is still incomplete.
There is another, related problem: the government has yet to create a single, official report documenting the post 9/11 abuses.