The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee is set to vote soon on releasing a classified report on U.S. torture practices. The Committee approved the report over a year ago — in December 2012. We strongly urge Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, both of whom serve on the Intelligence Committee, to vote for its public release.
Sadly, until the report is made public, most Americans’ knowledge of the CIA’s torture program will be limited to sensational, often inaccurate fictionalized movies and TV shows. For this reason, we strongly urge release of the report, which will share the facts on U.S.-sponsored torture. Maine is the only state with two senators on the Intelligence Committee. Thankfully, both senators have made strong statements against torture, but we believe that they must commit to taking the next step by encouraging their colleagues to release the report.
The CIA has leaked information suggesting that torture was useful for interrogating prisoners and suggesting that it would dispute the Intelligence Committee report, if the report shows that torture was ineffective. We recently learned, however, during the confirmation hearing for Caroline Krass, the nominee to be the new CIA general counsel, that the CIA previously produced an internal document that was highly critical of the agency’s use of torture. At the Dec. 17, 2013, hearing, Krass suggested that she believes that the Intelligence Committee — the committee tasked with overseeing CIA activities — did not have the right to see the documents providing legal justification for the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture.
In a free and just society, decisions aren’t made in the dark. The torture report must see the light of day if Americans and our lawmakers can take steps to ensure that the United States never again sponsors torture. In our view, this is the key vote on torture. Voting to bury the report would mean that the public may never know the truth. We fear that in absence of the facts, our government runs the risk of repeating its past mistakes and might again torture people. On the other hand, voting to release the report on torture would mean that the government would have to own up to its past mistakes.
In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s statement “For Peace in God’s World,” the church adopted the principles of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in reaffirming that the recognition of the inherent dignity and rights of all persons is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. The church, therefore, continues to teach about human rights, protest their violation, and support effective ways to monitor and ensure compliance with humane practices, even in times of conflict. A top priority is opposing torture and all other violations of human rights.
We are not disputing the right of Americans and all people to live in a secure world. It is a stark reality that terrorists use death and destruction as a tool for intimidation and a radical denial of freedoms. We understand that apprehension, incarceration and even interrogation are integral to the work of law enforcement.
Our issue here is with the use of torture by the United States, a nation founded on principles of justice and human dignity. Waterboarding, religious degradation, humiliation, starvation and sleep deprivation are examples of what can happen when we sacrifice our values and morals on the altar of false security. There is no evidence that torture works, and even if it did, the end never justifies the means.
That is why we join people of faith across our state who have come together through the Maine Council of Churches to urge Collins and King to vote for release of the Senate report about U.S.-sponsored torture, and we urge Mainers of good conscience to join us as we press these good senators to do what is right.
Bishop James Hazelwood serves as the leader of the New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, representing 60,000 Lutherans in 180 congregations. The Rev. Dr. William Barter is executive director of the Maine Council of Churches.