Senate Intelligence Committee / Photo

The images that emerged from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq sparked a movement against torture that has worked doggedly for many years now. Among those moved to action have been people of faith, religious people, who see torture as a moral issue. As one of those people who has written op-eds, letters to members of Congress and the administration in the White House, attended rallies/protests, and met with Congressional staffers, I wondered whether a group of committed religious people could have a real impact. Today, with the announcement by the Senate Intelligence Committee that they had voted to declassify their summary of what is being called a “CIA Torture Report,” the answer is finally “maybe.”

Infamous Prisoner on Leash Photo - Courtesy of WikiPedia and Creative Commons

Most people around the world and in the United States were outraged by the horrible conditions leaked through photos of torture and other depravity at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The powers that be would have had us believe that what took place there didn’t represent U.S. policy towards prisoners, but was instead caused by a bunch of rogue low-level servicemembers who had not been properly trained or supervised.

Whether the treatment at Abu Ghraib represented U.S. policy or not, the world now knows that “enhanced interrogation techniques” employed by the United States and its agents included what most experts would conclusively label as torture. Sadly, while admitting that our country did, in fact, commit acts that were beyond the pale, some still claim that the ends justified the means, that we gained important and actionable intelligence that prevented terrorist actions and resulted in the capture of known terrorists, including Osama Bin Laden. If statements on and off the record from people familiar with the report are accurate, claims that “enhanced interrogation” resulted in making us any safer are at best overstated and at worst flat-out false.

The legislative and judicial branches of our government are supposed to provide checks and balances on the executive branch but during the Bush/Cheney era, little was done concerning the issue of torture. When President Obama was elected some hoped that he might shed light on what his predecessor had done, but instead President Obama said that he wanted to look forward, not backward.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture has been working for years on this issue and my congregation, First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto, and a nonprofit on which I serve as a steering committee member, Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice, have made this issue a top priority. Banners can be found on churches, synagogues, and mosques around the country that say “Torture is A Moral Issue.” Tens of thousands of Americans have been working on this for years and one of our goals was to have the legislative branch do its job and investigate what actually happened.

The Senate Intelligence Committee began an investigation in 2009 which they concluded in 2012 with a 6,200 page report. That report was next sent to the White House and the CIA for review. Since then we have been working on encouraging the committee to release a declassified summary of the report. Today, the Senate Intelligence Committee had a bipartisan vote to do just that.

Senator Feinstein released the following statement through her web site:

The Senate Intelligence Committee this afternoon voted to declassify the 480-page executive summary as well as 20 findings and conclusions of the majority’s five-year study of the CIA Detention and Interrogation Program, which involved more than 100 detainees.

The purpose of this review was to uncover the facts behind this secret program, and the results were shocking. The report exposes brutality that stands in stark contrast to our values as a nation. It chronicles a stain on our history that must never again be allowed to happen.

This is not what Americans do.

The report also points to major problems with CIA’s management of this program and its interactions with the White House, other parts of the executive branch and Congress. This is also deeply troubling and shows why oversight of intelligence agencies in a democratic nation is so important.

The release of this summary and conclusions in the near future shows that this nation admits its errors, as painful as they may be, and seeks to learn from them. It is now abundantly clear that, in an effort to prevent further terrorist attacks after 9/11 and bring those responsible to justice, the CIA made serious mistakes that haunt us to this day. We are acknowledging those mistakes, and we have a continuing responsibility to make sure nothing like this ever occurs again.”

Now our mission continues. We need to pressure the White House to quickly approve the release of the declassified version of the committee’s summary of the report. Click here to contact President Obama. Beyond shedding light on the past, we need to take steps as Senator Feinstein said in today’s statement, to make sure that such things never happen again. The ball would be back in her court, to craft legislation and get it through Congress. So the ball would be back in our court, to get Congress to do its job.

Quick Note: While I was in the midst of writing this post a sweet man and his young son came into our shop to invite us to be part of a Half Moon Bay peace parade at the end of May. He’s a Catholic Worker who, along with his wife, has been working for social justice and peace for a lifetime, with his personal preference being to use radical hospitality and kindness to get things done. Kinda neat timing, don’t you think?

Can letters, emails, faxes, protests, prayer vigils, peace parades and other actions taken by people of faith, along with folks who don’t need a particular faith, help bring about a more peaceful, hospitable, and just world? Yeah, they can. Let’s get back to work.

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