The United States has failed over and over to confront its legacy of torture in the years of the Bush administration, what then Vice-President Dick Cheney called
going over to The Dark Side.
The result is a continuing legacy of cover-up that only further shames the nation and keeps us from actually regaining a moral center.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, leader of the Senate's intelligence committee, took the extraordinary step this week of providing compelling evidence that the CIA may have committed crimes in its effort to prevent exposure of their practices of illegal detention, rendition and torture. She said, of what her committee had been able to determine, "The interrogations and the conditions of confinement at the CIA detention sites were far different and far more harsh than the way the CIA had described them to us."
I applaud Senator Feinstein's lengthy and detailed accusations of the conduct of the CIA and especially her strong assertion that in terms of her committee's investigations, "We're not going to stop." She is also frankly calling for "the findings, conclusions and the executive summary of the report sent to the president for declassification and release to the American people."
Full public disclosure is crucial. Senator Feinstein opines, however, "If the Senate can declassify this report, we will be able to ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted."
No. Public disclosure alone will not accomplish that worthy goal. There needs to be a public, values-based condemnation of all of these practices in a Truth and Reconciliation model.
Many, including myself, have called for a U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission on torture for many years now.
When successful, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission serves to bring the public along so that large numbers of people come to recognize the truth of what has been done in their name, often with their willing ignorance of its true consequences, and sometimes even with their active participation.
The American people have been led away from the core moral conviction that torture is a grave moral wrong. According to a a 2012 Huffington Post survey the majority of Americans think torture "is always or sometimes justified."
No. Torture is never justified and is always and everywhere morally wrong. Torture is wrong in a moral sense because it destroys the humanity of the one being tortured, of the torturer and ultimately of the society that authorizes torture.
The fact that a majority of Americans still don't get that is a great moral catastrophe and one that must be faced directly.
In 2009, Paul van Zyl, the former executive secretary of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, called for the U.S. to have Truth and Reconciliation Commission on its legacy of torture:
A new America must confront this dark chapter openly and publicly. It must give victims a chance to testify and allow the American people to hear a firsthand, unvarnished account of the crimes committed in their name. It is only then that America will be able to say to itself in unambiguous terms: "We are not a nation that tortures its enemies. We regard torture as immoral and criminal. We will never justify or condone torture and we will punish those who commit these criminal acts.
Torture is never justified because it destroys the human dignity, in body, mind and spirit, of the one tortured. It is morally corrupting to the one who tortures because they must consent to treat another human being as a thing, a pulsing, pain-filled object. And it destroys the society that authorizes it. The community that offers a license to torture is fundamentally degraded in its claim to be a civilized nation.
I am very glad that the White House, according to Senator Feinstein, supports "declassification and release" of the committee report.
We must not stop there. We need a U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission to acknowledge, in a fundamental moral sense, that we must decisively reject "the dark side."
All Americans of conscience must call for such a process.
The tortured will not be silent and we cannot run from that any more.
Follow Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sbthistle