This month, Sen. Olympia Snowe and members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will deliberate a matter of great importance to our country’s integrity: the release of its comprehensive report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogation practices.
For more than three years, the SSCI has been carrying out its investigation into CIA interrogation practices, in particular the use of torture by the armed services. By far, this is the most inclusive probe into U.S.-sponsored practices of torture. The report indeed is comprehensive, spanning what is rumored to be 5,000 pages. As Snowe prepares to retire, this is her chance to leave a lasting mark for the good of transparency and public knowledge into the truths of our past.
What is most revealing and significant about this report is the fact that it will demonstrate conclusively that torture was, regardless of the moral and ethical dimensions which of themselves are overriding considerations, a useless interrogational technique. Should the report findings be made public, we, the constituents, will have the opportunity to gain knowledge and insight into precisely what took place, uncover evidence that what did take place was illegal, unethical and morally wrong, and also be confronted with the reality that the practice was harmful to our national security interests.
This committee ultimately must choose one of three options: Release the executive summary of the report, release the entire report or not release either version. It is our recommendation, and that of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, that the committee release the entire report. If its members elect to do so, the entire report will then be eligible for CIA declassification. That process takes months as the CIA will need to make redactions in order to protect legitimate interests, but, in the end, the public will have a complete picture.
This isn’t just another report that should sit on the shelf in Washington collecting dust. Rather, it is a report that begs for the light of day. My father, echoing Jesus, always said to me that the truth would set free me — a lesson that only served to enlighten me later as I grew up.
Indeed, truth and transparency serve to free us from our mistakes of the past and open the door to the potential of a brighter future. For Catholics and for many other people of faith, torture attacks the human dignity of its victims, but it also victimizes the perpetrators as well as any society that tolerates its practice. Torture contaminates society and debases it. This is true because the human person is not only sacred but also social. What we do to one another we ultimately do to ourselves because, as social beings, our fates are intimately and intricately bound together.
A society that tolerates torture threatens the common good of all people because it undermines respect for human dignity and basic human rights.
More than a decade after 9/11 and a year after the death of Osama bin Laden, one would have thought that the debate over torture would be settled. After all, the law says that it is illegal; the military admits that it doesn’t work; and our religious traditions tell us that it is plain wrong. Yet for some reason, the debate continues in many circles. In a world where situational ethics prevail, we are tempted to justify the means for the perceived ends. Curiously, in the case of torture, those perceived ends never materialize, and it does not yield the desired results.
In the end, sunshine is the best disinfectant. Releasing the results of the committee investigation will help ensure that our government never again engages in torture, principally by describing how our country came to use torture and proving that torture was not an effective way to gather intelligence.
As a person of faith, I oppose torture in all circumstances. As an American, I believe that the U.S. government should be accountable to me and all Americans. I join with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture in calling upon Snowe and the rest of the committee to release the facts about the U.S. government’s use of torture.
Marc R. Mutty is the director of the Office of Public Policy for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland and a former president of the Maine Council of Churches.