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"[T]here is no evidence there had ever before been the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after Sept. 11, directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody."

— from the Report of the Constitution Project's Task Force on Detainee Treatment

We have known for nearly a decade that this country systematically brutalized suspected terrorists in the aftermath of 9/11. What we didn't know until this past week, though, was just how hollow were the previous administration's protestations that its interrogation and detention programs, while harsh, did not amount to torture.

An independent, bipartisan report released last week should erase any lingering doubt that the counterterrorism strategy devised by top administration officials and approved by President George W. Bush included methods of interrogation long outlawed by law and international treaty. Among them were waterboarding, sleep and sensory deprivation, hours in stress positions, slamming detainees into walls and threatening them with dogs.

The 577-page report by the Constitution Project task force is the most thorough independent effort to date to examine and evaluate the origins and consequences of America's sanctioned mistreatment of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and at secret CIA sites in Thailand, Poland, Lithuania and Romania.

The panel was emphatic in its answer to the central question: "The members, coming from a wide political spectrum, believe that arguments that the nation did not engage in torture and that much of what occurred should be defined as something less than torture are not credible."

The task force was led by Republican Asa Hutchinson and Democrat James Jones, former congressmen who served in the Bush and Clinton administrations, respectively. The project was initiated after President Barack Obama decided not to convene a national "truth commission" to investigate policies that, albeit undertaken in a context of national trauma and insecurity, were an unprecedented stain on the nation's character.

Obama continues to err in keeping secret documents that would further understanding of the country's descent into torture, how it happened and how it might be avoided in future times of national crisis.

The Constitution Project's report is an important step toward that goal.