In 1988, President Reagan led a bipartisan effort to ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Twenty-five years ago today, he told the Senate in a letter that, “Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.”
Yet, despite the promises of that treaty ratified a quarter-century ago, torture remains prevalent in the world today. And I’m sure Reagan never would have imagined that the United States would be dealing with its own journey to the dark side, events chronicled in a 6,000-plus-page Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s post-9/11 “enhanced interrogation” program. It’s time for President Obama to lead now, as Reagan did then, to help restore the United States’s commitment against torture by working with the Senate Intelligence Committee to declassify and publicly release its report.
Those familiar with the report — including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee — say that it shows that torture after 9/11 was much more widespread and cruel than we thought and much less effective at gathering actionable intelligence information than proponents of “enhanced interrogation” claim. It’s a sad state of affairs when Americans turn to fictional films like "Zero Dark Thirty" for information about our history with torture while an official study based on a review of 6 million government records remains classified.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) put it best when he stated, “At a moment when our country is once again debating the efficacy and morality of so-called ‘enhanced interrogation’ practices, this study has the potential to set the record straight once and for all.” And the list of leaders calling for release of the Senate committee’s report continues to grow to include former CIA agents, dozens of our nation’s most respected retired generals and admirals and — most recently — Vice President Biden. Speaking at a recent forum on U.S. global leadership, Biden supported making the report public, arguing that “the only way you exorcize the demons is you acknowledge what happened, straightforward.”
On Thursday, Obama is set to give a speech updating the American people on his administration’s counterterrorism efforts. He should take this opportunity to announce his formal support for declassification and public release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report. The committee should also move forward to make the report’s findings public so the American people can know what our government did in our names, and ensure that these mistakes are never repeated. It’s time to recommit to the provisions in the Convention Against Torture and to the principle that lawmakers must work in a bipartisan way to ensure America’s national security.
Wala is a Senior Counsel in Human Rights First’s Law and Security Program.