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Rev. Richard L. Killmer Headshot

Disguising the Truth about U.S.-Sponsored Torture

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Jose Rodriguez, former chief of the CIA's Counter-Terrorism Center, has written a book, Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives, about his involvement in the CIA detention/interrogation/torture program for 9/11 detainees. It is one more effort by former Bush Administration officials, including former President Bush himself, to disguise the truth.

First they argue that the EIT's -- the "enhanced interrogation techniques" they used were not torture. But these techniques, which included waterboarding, walling (slamming detainees against walls), stress positions, sexual humiliation, extremes of heat and cold, and sleep deprivation, are understood by almost all people of good will to be torture. They argue that the Department of Justice verified that the EITS's were not torture. But we know that the memo which was written by the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice on which the president and the CIA relied was produced to give the torture efforts of the U.S. government legitimacy and the product of absurd legalistic twisting of words.

Second, they argue that the EIT's worked, that they resulted in information that saved the U.S. from other terrorist attacks and were key in getting Osama bin Laden. They make this claim knowing that the techniques they used were adapted from techniques used by the North Koreans to get our captured soldiers to say whatever the North Koreans wanted them to say. The techniques were developed and used to achieve compliance, not truth. Moreover, they overlook the damage torture does to the torturers. We know that the use of torture is counterproductive; it hardens and intensifies the commitment of the enemy leading to unnecessary deaths of our soldiers and an even more prolonged war.

These evasions of the truth, however -- as troubling as they are -- pale in comparison to their underlying acceptance of the use of EITs and torture by the United States. These former government officials essentially believe that because the U.S. faced perilous times after 9/11 and the threat of additional terrorist attacks, that we had the right to use cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and even torture to protect ourselves. They are wrong.

Torture is immoral under all circumstances -- whether or not it works. Generations of Americans have fought and died in order to protect American values. The National Religious Campaign Against Torture was created in 2006 to restore those values. Jose Rodriguez and others were wrong to abandon these values in the effort to stop terrorism.

Torture is also always illegal. The United States joined 149 other nations in signing the UN Convention Against Torture in 1994 and agreed to abide by the following proscription: "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."

The use of torture by the United States was a terrible mistake, and, as Mahatma Ghandi is quoted as saying, "An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation." Rodriguez, like former President George W. Bush and Vice President Cheney before him believe if they say it enough, that terrible mistake of making the United States a country that uses torture will be righted. But the world will not be fooled by these brazen claims, thankfully. What the United States did was wrong, morally and legally. It also cost us the safety and undoubtedly the lives of some of our soldiers.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is currently finishing an investigation into CIA use of torture. It is essential that the results of this investigation be released to the public so that the American people can know the truth about what was done in their name. Only then can we begin to ensure that this mistake is never repeated.

We may have allowed fear to cause the needle of our collective moral compass to waver, but our fundamental principles remain centered. As a nation founded on religious and moral values, we cannot begin to move past the shameful use of torture until we ensure that U.S. government-sponsored torture never occurs again. Justifications for the use of torture impede us from this important task.

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