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Rev. Richard L. Killmer Headshot

2013: An Important Year Toward the End of Torture

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2013 has been an amazing year in the effort to ensure that the United States government never tortures again. There have been a number of important milestones, but there are still several important steps that we need to take together to reach our goal -- several of them that may take place in 2014.

On December 19, Congress passed key provisions in the FY 2014 National Defense Authorization Act that eased the restrictions on transferring Guantanamo detainees to foreign countries. Passing these provisions makes it much easier to close Guantanamo. Guantanamo is a place where detainees were tortured and where most have been imprisoned for years without charge or trial. Its very existence is a violation of American values.

The focus in 2014 will be on the president. With Congress' easing of the restrictions on transferring the majority of detainees out of Guantanamo, the president has room to act -- and act he must if he is to achieve his promise of closing Guantanamo. In December, the administration repatriated two men from Guantanamo to Saudi Arabia, two to Sudan, and just today, three Uighur men held for 12 years to Slovakia. There are now 155 detainees remaining in the detention center at Guantanamo.

Likewise, there has been major progress in urging the Senate Intelligence Committee to release its report on CIA torture. In 2009, the committee began an investigation into torture, for which it reviewed more than six million pages of documents and produced a 6,000-page report. The report was approved with a bipartisan vote on December 13, 2012.

Though it has been adopted, more than a year later, the committee has not yet decided whether to release the report to the public. The report is classified -- which means that it is hidden from you, me and the rest of the American public. We will never know the facts about torture contained in the report, unless it is released. The committee is expected to vote on the report's public release in early 2014.

The religious community, working with the human rights community across the country has played a major role in developing support for release. Together with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, religious leaders across the country published op-eds in newspapers in all 50 states this year, urging the Intelligence Committee to release the report and urging local support for their call.

The role of the religious community in this effort is not surprising. Torture is immoral, 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 victim. The Golden Rule makes it clear: Torture should not be perpetrated on others because we would not want others to torture us.

There are several critical reasons to release the report:

1. If the report is released, we may as American citizens have the tools to suggest specific achievable safeguards that would make it more difficult for a future president to manipulate the law in such a way. If the report is not released, then future presidents may take the opportunity again to change the law in order to authorize torture.

2. Too many of our fellow Americans sadly believe that under certain circumstances, the use of torture is justified. The information in the committee report could help counter that message.

3. Releasing the report will show the moral strength of our nation both to our enemies and our friends. We will demonstrate that we are able to acknowledge and learn from our wrongdoing.

4. The Senate Armed Services Committee issued a report on the U.S. military's use of torture in November 2008, which led to the end of the use of torture by the military. Similarly, the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on torture can help to ensure that the CIA will never use torture again.

2014 could be a very important year in the effort to ensure that U.S.-sponsored torture never happens again. The number of detainees at Guantanamo could decrease significantly, the Senate Intelligence Committee could release its report on torture, and Congress could begin to create legislation on the basis of this report. All of these goals can only happen if the religious community and the human rights community continue to work with vigor for the end of torture.