The president, vice president, secretary of defense and many other top political leaders of the United States government authorized the use of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of people detained after Sept. 11. The torture “occurred in many instances and across a wide range of theaters.”
These are some of the findings of the bipartisan Task Force on Detainee Treatment sponsored by the Constitution Project. After two years of examining public records and interviewing a number of eye witnesses and involved persons, the task force issued a 500-page report that describes in detail numerous examples of torture, including cases where detainees were literally tortured to death.
Asa Hutchinson, former undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security for President George W. Bush and a former Republican member of Congress from Arkansas, and James Jones, former Democratic member of Congress from Oklahoma, who was ambassador to Mexico, co-chaired the task force.
Among its findings, the report states that the United States “has violated its international legal obligations in its practice of the enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention of terror suspects in secret prisons abroad.”
The report shows how the U.S. captured and held as prisoners detainees who likely had no connection to terrorism. It documents how our government mistreated detainees in capriciously cruel ways and how President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld deliberately decided to set aside both legal and moral constraints.
The Office of Legal Counsel, which advises the president, “repeatedly gave erroneous legal sanction” to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of people not found guilty of any crime.
In doing so, these men violated both U.S. and international law while trampling on the moral precepts of every major religion and humanistic tradition in the world. It is essential that the U.S. government now disclose all that is known about this dark episode in our history and strengthen legal prohibitions against torture, with clear oversight to ensure compliance.
The task force has done a great service to the nation in documenting these violations of law, morality and human dignity. Now it is time for members of Congress to act.
A 6,000-page report of the Senate Intelligence Committee on CIA interrogations should be released to the public. The outcome of the Intelligence Committee’s investigation into torture, during which it reviewed more than 6 million pages of classified documents, the report was approved in a bipartisan vote way back in December of last year. The committee is expected to vote this fall on whether to release it.
The religious community is united in our call for the facts on the United States’ torture legacy. These terrible acts were committed by people acting in our name with our tax dollars. We are complicit.
Only an informed public, demanding an end to such practices, can guarantee that the necessary steps will be taken to hold the government accountable and to move forward on moral grounds.
As a Catholic, I join people of faith from hundreds of diverse religious and faith-based groups who have come together through the National Religious Campaign Against Torture in calling on the Senate Intelligence Committee to release its report about U.S.-sponsored torture to the American people.
The social teaching of the Catholic Church is clear about the evil of torture; Pope John Paul II called it “an intrinsic evil.” Torture violates human dignity upon which all Catholic social teaching is based. As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has declared, torture violates the dignity of the perpetrator as well as the victim.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of respecting each person’s transcendent human dignity and respect for human rights. It teaches that every person — repeat, every person —- no matter what that individual has done or failed to do, is made in the image of God and therefore their dignity must not be violated.
In a democracy, when torture is committed by our government, the dignity of every citizen is compromised. We must demand the Senate Intelligence Committee vote to release its detailed report so that we the people can begin the process of retrieving the moral standing of this nation.
Joseph Gainza is co-founder of Vermont Action for Peace. He lives in Marshfield.MORE IN Perspective
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