We must end the indignities of torture

As a child growing up in the 1950s during the Korean War, my greatest fear was what it would be like to be tortured — bamboo under my fingernails, for example. When I think of my beloved four grandchildren and the world we are leaving them, I am deeply concerned that the use of torture be forever abolished, especially by my own country.

So, how can our country make sure that our grandchildren and all of the grandchildren in the United States do not grow up in a nation that tortures human beings? How can all of us guarantee that U.S.-sponsored torture will never happen again?

A critical first step is to provide the documentation and recognition of the use of torture with the expectation that our government will then use this information to condemn and abolish it forever. This process has begun, in fact, with two important reports.

This spring, a non-governmental, bipartisan task force, the Task Force on Detainee Treatment convened by The Constitution Project, released a 500-page report based on a two-year investigation into the U.S. government’s treatment of 9/11 detainees. Drawing on public records and the task force members’ own interviews with a number of eyewitnesses and involved persons, the report documents how the United States used interrogation techniques on detainees that it had previously condemned as illegal when used by others, including waterboarding, stress positions, extended sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation and prolonged solitary confinement, including cases where individuals were tortured to death.

The task force report concludes indisputably that the United States government engaged in illegal torture. The detailed nature of the findings and the high-level, bipartisan makeup of the task force ensures that this report is an important source of credible information about the reality of U.S.-sponsored torture and, I hope, a catalyst for meaningful action.

In addition to the Task Force on Detainee Treatment report, the Senate Intelligence Committee conducted its own investigation into U.S.-sponsored CIA torture during which it reviewed more than 6 million pages of documents, including classified files unavailable to the task force. The Senate Intelligence Committee approved its 6,000-page report in a bipartisan vote on Dec. 13, 2012, but the report has remained classified and has not been released to the public.

By the end of the year, the Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to vote on whether to release its findings. The report needs to be released to the public so that the American people can learn the whole truth about torture. Torture is shocking, counterproductive and ultimately harmful to 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 runs contrary to the teachings of all religions and dishonors all faiths. It is an egregious violation of the dignity and worth of every human being — both the torturer and the tortured. The Golden Rule makes it clear: Torture should not be perpetrated on others because we would not want others to torture us.

For the past seven years, I have been a member of the Washington State Religious Campaign Against Torture, as part of a national coalition with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. As representatives from diverse faith groups, our members speak out together with the universal reminder that torture is immoral — and that we must learn the truth about its use by our government.

Our responsibility in a democracy is to assure that our government be accountable to the people. We believe that having as thorough as possible an understanding of the torture that occurred during this period — and a willingness to acknowledge any shortcomings — strengthens the nation and equips us to better cope with future crises as an exemplary practitioner of the rule of law. This is why it is critical that the Senate Intelligence Committee vote this month to release its report on CIA torture.

Our nation is at a turning point. The Intelligence Committee has the power to determine if my grandchildren and all of the grandchildren of this nation will live in a country that does not torture. Tell your senators to urge their colleagues on the committee to vote in favor of the grandchildren.

Tom Ewell of Whidbey Island is a member of the Religious Society of Friends and a founding member of the Washington State Religious Campaign Against Torture.

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