An independent review released last week can be an important step to reach that truth -- and to make sure it never happens again.
"It is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture," concludes the report issued by the bipartisan Constitution Project. "As long as the debate continues, so too does the possibility that the United States could again engage in torture."
The 577-page study confirms previously reported abuses by military and intelligence personnel at detention centers in Iraq and Afghanistan, secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
It also validates a report that one or more Libyan militants were waterboarded by the CIA, which has long maintained that only three al-Qaida prisoners were subjected to the near-drownings.
The CIA also slammed detainees into walls, chained them in uncomfortable positions and kept them awake for days. The report cites dozens of cases in which similar treatment was prosecuted in the United States or denounced as torture by the State Department when done by other countries.
The report concludes that there's "no persuasive evidence" that the brutal interrogations yielded any valuable intelligence that could not have been obtained by other means.
We know that there will be more acts of terror against Americans. And we should know that the torture perpetrated after 9/11 has made those future attacks more likely, not less. The inhumane treatment almost certainly endangered our own soldiers, violated international law, damaged America's moral standing and only bred more militants.
The study was conducted by an 11-member task force led by two former members of Congress, Republican Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas and Democrat James Jones of Oklahoma.
While the task force did not have access to classified reports, it visited Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and other countries, and interviewed more than 100 people, including former detainees, military and intelligence officers and policymakers.
Like many in his party, Hutchinson, who was undersecretary for homeland security for President George W. Bush, had been reluctant to acknowledge that the U.S. practiced torture. But after nearly two years of intensive research, he has no doubts.
"The United States has a historic and unique character," he said, "and part of that character is that we do not torture."
Yet we have tortured, and recognition of that is the first step to ensuring it never happens again.
-- The Sacramento Bee