The April 15 bombing of the finish line at the Boston Marathon has triggered—and will continue to trigger—a series of state responses. The “first responders” were seen bravely running towards the scene of the devastation even as thousands of runners and spectators were quite naturally running away, in search of security. The second response, ongoing as I write this, is the search for the perpetrator or perpetrators, to bring them, as President Obama said, to justice. But the third response may be the most enduring—the legislative and executive initiatives sparked by the tragedy in hopes of preventing similar acts in the future. We all want to prevent such acts, of course, but we must be careful about the lengths to which we are willing to go toward that end.
A vivid reminder of the dangers of the third type of response came, coincidentally, the day after the Boston Marathon bombing, when a nonpartisan, blue-ribbon task force sponsored by the Washington-based Constitution Project issued its final report on the United States’ treatment of detainees in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. The task force conducted a two-year investigation—interviewing detainees, lawyers and former government officials—and has written a more than 500-page report. It unanimously concluded that “it is undisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture,” and that “the nation’s most senior officials…bear ultimate responsibility for allowing and contributing to the spread of illegal and improper interrogation techniques.” The task force also found that the United States had “violated its international legal obligations in its practice of the enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention of terror suspects in secret prisons abroad.”
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Contributed by David Cole of The Nation.