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Former Rep. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., is throwing his hat into the ring for next year's open gubernatorial race, but only after finishing up his role in leading an investigation into detainee treatment and crafting policies designed to boost school security.
Hutchinson was tapped by the Constitution Project to lead what he calls a nonpartisan probe into how detainees were treated at various known and classified sites. He was also the point man for the National Rifle Association in its recent push to enhance security in every school in America. Hutchinson recently wrapped up work on both major projects, and he told WND that work led to his decision to seek the governor's office in Arkansas once again.
"The engagement on these public issues just rekindled the fire for public service that I have," Hutchinson said. "We love the state of Arkansas, and we think there's a great opportunity here. We had to finish these projects of the detention task force. It's been two years in the works. This was so important after Sandy Hook with the school safety. Now I can devote attention to this important opportunity. We're learning that the governors is who are really shaping national policy and helping, whether it's health care policy or whether it's education. They're really the leading indicators and that's exciting to me."
Hutchinson lost the 2006 Arkansas governor's race to Democrat Mike Beebe, who is term-limited and cannot seek a third term in 2014.
As for the the work he recently completed, Hutchinson admitted that the NRA's goals on improving school security, including a push toward more armed security, were not implemented in the unsuccessful gun legislation in the Senate. But he said the effort has still made great strides.
"The good news is that it's being considered by every local school district in our nation. This is a local issue. They are driving the train. They are improving security. They are taking steps. States are addressing it. What happens in Washington is not going to make a big difference in the safety of our schools. They have a pittance of money that's looked at school safety, and the rest of their initiatives on the gun control side really does not have an impact on the safety of our schools. As we've seen demonstrated – whether it's whether it's a knife or whether it's a legal firearm – there's always a risk in our society today. Until we get those problems solved, you've got to improve safety."
In his work with the Constitution Project, Hutchinson and his team of two retired generals and "distinguished public servants," the task force concluded that the rights of detainees were regularly violated.
"Our forces did engage in what would generally be accepted as torture. So it's really indisputable that that's what happened. As to how that happened, you had everything from lawyers' opinions to messages being sent down to take the gloves off. All of these things combined for an an environment in which torture was committed," Hutchinson said. "This is strictly against what our nation stands for. It's a violation of the (U.N.) Convention Against Torture, which was signed under Ronald Reagan as president."
Hutchinson said the report also makes several recommendations for future policy, including changing the role of medical personnel with respect to detainees and making sure that the Uniformed Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions are closely followed.
He said the issue became widespread because it became formal U.S. policy. The report concludes legal experts were misled on what enhanced interrogation techniques would entail and the lawyers then misinformed President George W. Bush.
"I can understand fully the post-9/11 environment because I was there, and our objective was to prevent the next terrorist attack. We didn't want this to happen again," Hutchinson said. "But we can make bad decisions even with the best of intentions."