Washington State Religious Campaign Against Torture

by Tom Ewell

It is now well established that the U.S. government condoned and practiced torture during the Bush administration. Two reports have confirmed this fact.  One report was researched and reported in 2013 by a bi-partisan team on behalf of the Constitution Project. The New York Times headline following the release of the report was “Indisputable Torture.”

This report was highlighted at a June 3, 2014 event initiated by the Washington State Religious Campaign Against Torture (WSRCAT ), and co-sponsored by a number of other organizations [including WWFOR], as we welcomed Brigadier General David Irvine, who served as a member on the Constitution Project panel, and other guests and local experts to an evening program of information that provided a summary of the findings of the Constitution Project report and a course of action for us to follow. [You can watch the event, filmed by independent journalist Mike McCormick at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46mxVTnG7G8]

A second report is perhaps even more damning because it was conducted over a period of several years by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) which is charged with the oversight of the CIA. The SSCI had access to documents and interviews not available to the Constitution Project. Although the SSCI report was completed and approved in December of 2012, the SSCI did not vote to make it public until early April of this year because objections by the CIA caused its delay. It is still not available to the general public because it is being redacted by the CIA, and with their editing it is hard to believe we will ever see the full extent of the actual report. But the SSCI report is still an extremely important document and needs to be released so that the American people can learn as much as we can about the use of torture that was condoned and committed by our own government.

According to leading media sources, the SSCI report confirms the shocking reality of the extent of CIA torture far beyond the horrific practices already revealed. In response to those seeking to justify or whitewash U.S. torture, the report will disprove the contention that torture kept America safe. It will show that torture not only failed to gain valuable information but also damaged the reputation of the United States and strengthened America’s enemies.

TORTURE IS WRONG. It is a core violation of human dignity and human values. It is a violation of the Golden Rule codified in all major religions and all democratic traditions reject it. Torture is also illegal in both national and international law. Along with slavery and genocide, torture ranks as a supreme crime. The right not to be tortured is absolute. There can be no exceptions.  A government that tortures and gets away with it is exercising power beyond all moral and legal restraint. Torture is a systemic crime, condemned by all civilized governments, including our own. If government torture is not banished, rights mean nothing.

If torture is not wrong, nothing is wrong. The public release of the report will only be a crucial first step toward the ultimate goal of the permanent abolition of U.S. Torture. The best guarantee for permanently abolishing torture is to hold the perpetrators accountable. The rule of law means nothing without accountability. To date, not one high official who ordered torture or who facilitated or otherwise participated in its implementation has been held accountable.

In this matter, President Obama has not been helpful. The President must reverse his previous position and appoint a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute U.S. officials responsible for torture, and to allow victims of U.S. torture to seek redress in the courts. But Americans cannot wait for our government to act. Powerful forces are at work to prevent criminal accountability. It is also clear that the proponents of torture will continue to provide distorted justifications for “dark side” practices. After attempting to keep torture secret, after distorting the law to make it appear that torture is legal, after destroying evidence, and after attempting to undermine and even intimidate the Senate investigators, the CIA, along with top officials of the Bush-Cheney administration, must be held to public account. This accounting depends on an actively engaged public.

When the SSCI report is actually released to the public, we need to make our views known to the media, our congregations, civic organizations, unions, universities, and workplaces. We need to demand that our congressional representatives and prominent state officials condemn torture and to work for its permanent abolition. Ultimately, it will be the American people’s unequivocal rejection of torture that will provide the best guarantee that the U.S. never again resorts to this inhuman act.

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