The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to vote as early as the last week of February on whether to release its 6,000-page report on interrogation practices that have been used by the CIA in the years since Sept. 11, 2001. Maine Sen. Susan Collins sits on this important committee, as does Sen. Angus King.
There should be no question about whether this report is to be made public. Citizens in this democratic country should be informed about the interrogation methods practiced in their name. Elected officials should not pick and choose what to share with us about matters that relate to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture. The United States signed these international agreements and therefore should abide by them.
As citizens, we need to be kept in the loop about how our government is — or is not — upholding these agreements. It is not in the best interests of our nation for people to be kept in the dark.
Fundamental to the health of our democratic system is our continued right to openly voice our opinions about important matters of the day in the media, through correspondence with elected officials, and at public gatherings. This system of open government is what separates us most solidly from regimes such as those of North Korea, which we are famous for vilifying. We cannot voice our beliefs if information is withheld from us.
I became a teacher because I believe in our system of government and I wanted to help educate young people who would be capable caretakers of our collective future. Humans need many years and a lot of help to mature into educated citizens. Among what they must learn before adulthood are two skills that are essential to good governance: how to think logically and how to make decisions based on evidence. Without these skills in place, people make decisions based on emotion, impulse and faulty reasoning.
With these skills in place people, can make reasoned decisions that help us maintain our resources for future generations. Our resources include the Constitution and the laws of our nation. Indeed, these are perhaps our most precious resources.
The Senate Intelligence Committee knows that the information in its report will prove controversial with the public. Many Americans are not proud that in the years since Sept. 11, 2001, we have allowed widespread use of torture by CIA interrogators seeking to uncover terrorist cells and schemes. We know that the use of these techniques compromises our position of moral leadership on the world stage.
Furthermore, many are skeptical that torture is an effective means of getting useful information. Professional interrogators say that rapport building and incentive-based interrogation techniques are more reliable and effective than torture. Additionally, military and intelligence experts have repeatedly stated on the record that U.S. torture actually serves to recruit terrorists and puts U.S. troops at risk.
While a desire to obfuscate in relation to the contents of this report is natural on the part of members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, as custodians of our democracy they need to do the right thing, face what criticism may come their way and choose openness.
Americans need to know what is done in their name on the world stage. If CIA officials are sure that torture is an effective means of interrogation, then they should respond openly to the experts who disagree. The citizens have both a right and an obligation to study the evidence and apply their logical thinking skills to the question of whether we want to continue the interrogation methods that have been used by this country since 2001.
Maine will be proud of Collins and King if they vote to release the report.
Kathreen Harrison is a public school teacher living in midcoast Maine and is a member of Amnesty International. She authors the Rethinking Education blog on bangordailynews.com.