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Rev. Ron Stief Headshot

Releasing the Torture Report Is No Mere Academic Exercise

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Thursday's 11-3 bipartisan vote in the Senate Intelligence Committee to seek declassification of the executive summary of its report on the CIA's post-9/11 rendition, detention and interrogation program is a real victory for the faith community. After more than five years of urging the U.S. government to publicly air the truth about its use of immoral interrogation tactics (including torture), key portions of the report are now on their way to being released. The National Religious Campaign Against Torture, for one, is proud to have joined with allies from across the faith community in successfully advocating for the government to shed light on torture.

Jim Winkler, president of the National Council of Churches, links the importance of this vote to democracy and freedom, noting that "if elected leaders of the United States of America have the slightest interest in living up to the ideals of democracy and peace, they will not hesitate to make public the report on torture."

Stephen Colecchi, director of the Office of International Justice and Peace at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, puts torture in its proper theological context, saying that, "for Catholics, torture is an 'intrinsic evil.'" "Only by admitting our past mistakes," he says, "can the United States take a clear stance against torture and regain some of our moral credibility as a defender of human rights for all."

The report now goes to the president and the executive branch for a redaction process before it is made public. The report is said to provide evidence that torture was unnecessary from a national security perspective, and to describe how and why the use of torture was authorized. It is incumbent on the president to ensure that the executive summary and conclusions are released as quickly as possible with only minimal redactions that are critical to national security. In addition, both our Senators and the President have a further responsibility to move quickly to release the full 6,300 page report.

The president must take personal responsibility for ensuring a reasonable and fair redaction process. It isn't rocket science to see that the CIA faces an inherent conflict of interest in redacting an oversight report that is critical of actions carried out by the agency.

If the CIA is allowed free rein to redact the report, it may black out portions merely because they are embarrassing to the agency. Even worse, it may excise parts of the report that would discredit the immoral program of torture -- so, God forbid, the possibility may remain open for the CIA to use torture again. Recent reports of the CIA obstructing the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation only underline the importance of ensuring that the CIA is not a bad actor in the redaction process.

David Gushee, former president of Evangelicals for Human Rights, and a member of The Constitution Project's Taskforce on Detainee Treatment, clearly sees the implications of this issue for U.S. law, saying, "The first step in restoring the rules of morality and law in our country is to tell the truth about the actions of the CIA. I urge all Americans to read the report and relearn from it that torture is immoral, un-American, and ineffective."

And here's where the future legacy of the presidency of Barack Obama comes in. On his second full day in office, President Obama issued an executive order banning torture. Now, the faith community -- and virtually everyone who cares about human rights and dignity -- is urging the president to take the next step by using his moral authority to lead the declassification process and point the way toward solutions ensuring that the United States never again uses torture. Every citizen of the United States has a right to learn from the full version of the Senate's investigation into torture. Certainly, we must see more than the executive summary and conclusions of this report, which the Senate decided Thursday to declassify.

The president owes at least this much to the American people. The Senate Intelligence Committee took moral responsibility by voting to make public the truth about the CIA's use of torture. People of faith represented by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture believe that torture is always wrong. Admitting the truth about the United States' past is the first step toward redemption. And that step has to be taken.

Once the report is made fully public, human rights allies in Congress and across the country will seek to use the information to establish safeguards that will permanently prevent the use of torture in the future.

This isn't an academic exercise. The report is about very real people whose dignity and very lives and families were destroyed by the use of torture. The report is believed to describe in sickening detail the CIA's use of abhorrent acts of torture. Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, notes that post-9/11 torture violates the image of God because "the Jewish tradition insists that every human being is created in the image of God." If that isn't a call to action for this president and the nation, then I don't know what is.