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Melina Milazzo, Esq. Headshot

It's Never Too Late to Account for Our Torturous Past

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Eleven years ago, U.S. government lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee "redefined the law" to provide distorted legal justifications -- where none exist -- to torture detainees held in U.S. custody. While Yoo and Bybee received a slap on the wrist for their failure to exercise independent legal judgment and render candid legal advice, the United States still has not fully reckoned with its past illegal policies. But it's not too late. The public release of the 6,000 page Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA torture program would be a significant step in the right direction.

On August 1, 2002, the infamous "torture memos" were issued which gave the CIA the go-ahead to use torture and cruelty to interrogate detainees with tactics such as, sexual humiliation, forced stress positions, sleep deprivation for up to 180 hours, exposure to extreme temperatures, sensory overload, sensory deprivation, and waterboarding. Proponents of these abusive tactics euphemistically called them "enhanced," but there is nothing superior about torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

As an international rehabilitation center that has extended care to nearly 24,000 survivors of torture and war atrocities, the Center for Victims of Torture knows that these interrogation techniques cause serious physical and psychological pain that may amount to torture and can have lasting effects. Our clients consistently tell us that they would - and did - say anything to make the torture stop. Consistent with these reports, the landmark 2006 study, "Educing Information," by the National Defense Intelligence College looked at the science behind interrogations and found coercion can make some more defiant and less cooperative while degrading a person's ability to report accurate information.

A three-year, exhaustive study on the CIA detention and interrogation program adopted by the Senate Intelligence Committee late last year with bi-partisan support also reportedly shows that torture did not provide actionable intelligence. Unfortunately, a report that both Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) have stated will show once and for all that the use of coercive interrogation techniques were terrible mistakes, remains secret.

By approving -- and using -- coercive interrogation tactics intended to "break" prisoners, the United States placed itself in the same company of repressive regimes around the world. The use of torture and inhumane treatment seriously harmed the U.S.'s credibility as a human rights leader and compromised international cooperation and support from allies. It also undermined the international movement to end torture around the world that it once proudly led with strong bi-partisan support.

The United States must reckon with our past if we want to avoid repeating our mistakes. It's not enough to pull the legal memorandum that justified the abuse or to issue an Executive Order that closed the CIA secret prisons and put an end to the abusive practices. Our legal and moral obligations require us to do more than simply look forward. We must have a full and public accounting of the brutal truth in order to openly examine the consequences of our actions. As political, national security, foreign policy, and religious leaders recognize, the public release of the Senate Intelligence Committee's CIA torture report would better position the United States from going down this ignoble path in the future.

Eleven years is a long time to account for our past, but it's never too late.