On March 5, 2009, the Senate Intelligence Committee announced, “The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has agreed on a strong bipartisan basis to begin a review of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. The purpose is to review the program and to shape detention and interrogation policies in the future.”
For five years, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has been leading an in-depth review into the CIA’s ill-conceived detention and interrogation program following the 9/11 terror attacks. As a result, the Intelligence Committee produced a three-volume report, more than 6,000 pages long, accompanied by 35,000 footnotes.
The American people deserve to know the facts behind the CIA’s torture program and the serious consequences it had to our national security and foreign policy, our legal obligations under U.S. and international law, and our global leadership in human rights. They deserve to know a bulwark is firmly in place helping to prevent the return to torture and cruel treatment as official U.S. policy.
The U.S. government’s former policies of torture and cruelty during interrogation and detention seriously undermined the bipartisan national consensus opposed to torture which long transcended ideological and political lines in the United States. This opposition is deeply rooted in 1988 when the Reagan Administration signed the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
During Senate consideration of the Convention Against Torture in October 1990, former Kansas Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R) stated, “Torture is simply not accepted in this country, and never will be.”
Sadly, when the U.S. government authorized and engaged in unlawful policies of torture and cruel treatment following the 9/11 terror attacks, the aspirations of the framers and supporters of the Convention Against Torture, and all others who respect human dignity, were shattered.
Since 1985, the Center for Victims of Torture has extended rehabilitative care to more than 24,000 survivors of torture and severe war-related atrocities from countries around the world. Our clients consistently tell us that they would—and did—say anything to make the torture stop.
Rather than an effective tool of interrogation, torture and cruel treatment are weapons of repression used by oppressive governments to control populations, stifle dissent and suppress emerging movements. Their use erodes civil society and destroys trust in government institutions. When the United States suggests that torture and cruel treatment are justified or necessary, brutal regimes elsewhere are repeating them.
History reminds us that, until there is acknowledgement and accountability for what happened, societies cannot simply move on by looking forward. This failure also opens the door for perpetrators of torture in other parts of the world to shamelessly justify their actions and further shield themselves from the search for truth and accountability. This process is as critical to preventing future acts of torture—in the United States and elsewhere—as it is to ensuring the durability of the fundamental principles of democracy and respect for the rule of law we celebrate as Americans.
In order for the United States to regain its global leadership against torture and cruel treatment, it must account for their unlawful use and guarantee the U.S. government does not repeat these past mistakes in the future.
A vote by the Intelligence Committee to publicly release the details surrounding the CIA’s torture program will also make it more difficult for future Administrations to overturn President Obama’s Executive Order ending torture and cruel treatment and to bring back these illegal and reprehensible policies.
With this vote, the stakes for the United States could hardly be higher.
Goering is executive director of the Center for Victims of Torture, an international nongovernmental organization based in St. Paul, Minnesota and dedicated to healing survivors of torture and war-related atrocities.