Thursday, August 29, 2013

The horrifying truth is that our nation tortures human beings.

With Dick Cheney’s daughter running for the U.S. Senate, Wyoming has an opportunity to become ground zero in an important national debate over whether torture should be used in the war against terrorism. Liz Cheney defends waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” techniques authorized by her father, techniques called “ghoulish, at times medieval” by Jeremy Scahill in his book “Dirty Wars.”
I have been invited to join the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. We seek to stir the national consciousness to reject the use of torture as the policy of the American government.
Before 9/11, it would have been unthinkable that the United States would resort to torture. With little discernment and shrouded in secrecy, ours became what we were taught to despise, a nation that violates the most basic sense of what it means to be civilized. The horrifying truth is that our nation tortures human beings.
Both the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Constitution Project have studied this matter in depth and written reports. The 6,000-page Senate report remains secret. CP’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment publicly released its report this year. Its bipartisan report examines the federal government’s policies and conduct related to the capture, detention, and treatment of suspected terrorists during the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations.
The task force was co-chaired by former Republican Senator Asa Hutchinson (Arkansas), Under Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security during the George W. Bush administration, and Rep. Jim Jones (D-Oklahoma). The task force includes former high-ranking officials with distinguished careers in the judiciary, Congress, the diplomatic service, law enforcement, the military, other parts of the executive branch, and recognized experts in law, medicine and ethics. The group includes conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats.
The committee found “U.S. forces, in many instances, used interrogation techniques on detainees that constitute torture.” According to the report, “American personnel conducted an even larger number of interrogations that involved ‘cruel, inhuman, or degrading’ treatment.” They concluded this behavior violated international law and our own Constitution and values. Examining public records and interviewing eyewitnesses, the report describes detailed cases where individuals were literally tortured to death, using interrogation techniques the US had previously condemned as illegal when used by others, including waterboarding, extreme stress positions, extended sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, and prolonged solitary confinement.
Because task force members lacked access to classified information, they were unable to put to rest claims made by torture supporters that torture was a useful tactic. Unless the Senate report is made public, some will continue to make claims that what we did was not torture and even if it was, that it saved lives.
We may reach different conclusions, but we should all have the same facts. It’s impossible to have a meaningful debate unless the facts and findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee are on the table.
This is not simply a political debate. It’s theological. This is about our relationship with God. In a very real way, Americans must decide how much of Jesus’ teaching we are willing to discard in order to pursue an immoral public policy.

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