Kentucky voices

Ky. Voices: Senate panel must not withhold truth about torture

August 25, 2013 

The short attention span of the American citizenry leads to many important matters getting swept under the national rug. Things that are not dealt with, confronted, debated and clarified become dangerous lumps that will trip up the nation and could lead to more serious difficulties. Some issues are so critical and of such great moral import that we ignore them at our peril.

Torture, and its use by various national agencies, offends the moral sensibilities of all Americans. We, the people, need to demand that rug be lifted and the facts about torture and its use by U.S. agencies in the seemingly never-ending war on terror be swept out into plain view of the American people.

Earlier this year, a non-governmental, bipartisan task force led by Asa Hutchinson, the former undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security during the George W. Bush administration who was also a former Republican congressman from Arkansas, and James Jones, a former Democratic member of Congress from Oklahoma and ambassador to Mexico, released a 500-page report on our government's treatment of 9/11 detainees.

The Constitution Project's task force concluded that the U.S. government indisputably engaged in illegal torture. The report documents how detainees were tortured in order to obtain information that had no significant value, and conveys that "much of the information adduced from torture was not useful or reliable."

All of my life, I have loved my country and been devoted to her noble principles of liberty and justice for all. But, in the instance of torture, I am embarrassed, chagrined and ashamed. Through the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, I have joined with people of faith from hundreds of diverse religious and faith-based groups to bring to light the truth of our nation's terrible actions in the name of all of us.

The task force's report on torture tells me that various branches of our government decided that torture of detainees in the post-9/11 period was somehow justifiable. Interrogation techniques that we have previously condemned are described in the task force's report; some detainees were literally tortured to death, while other prisoners suffered from waterboarding, stress positions, extended sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation and prolonged solitary confinement.

The good news is that there is another report.

The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee has conducted its own investigation into torture in which it reviewed more than 6 million pages of documents, and its report is more than 6,000 pages long, and is based, in part, on information contained in classified documents that were not available to the task force.

The Senate Intelligence Committee approved its report in a bipartisan vote on Dec. 13, 2012, and will vote as early as September on whether or not to release the report. The report needs to be made available to the public so that the American people can learn the whole truth about torture, including its grave impact on our nation's long-term security.

Torture is illegal, without exception. In 1994, the United States signed the United Nations Convention against Torture, which binds our country to the following stipulation: "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."

Torture is immoral because it is the egregious violation of the dignity and worth of every human being — both the torturer and the tortured. It runs contrary to the teachings of all religions and dishonors all faiths, and all in whose name it is conducted.

Please join me in urging the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee to release its report so that we may know the truth. Our government must be accountable to the American people.

If we are kept in the dark about such government practices as torture, then our government ceases to adhere to our founding principles, and our nation ought rightfully to be ashamed and insistent on a return to morality and justice.

The Rev. Nancy J. Kemper is minister of New Union Christian Church Woodford County and is the retired executive director of the Kentucky Council of Churches.

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