The Truth About Torture

05/25/2011 10:44 am ET | Updated Jul 25, 2011
  • Richard Geldard Author, 'Emerson and the Dream of America: Finding Our Way to a New and Exceptional Age'

In the dust-up following the death of bin Laden, a too-soon forgotten issue came alive again when Bush-era pols surfaced to claim that the "enhanced interrogation" (read torture) of detainees gave us crucial intelligence. Despite disclaimers from Leon Panetta and other present and former officials that torture gave us no useful information whatsoever, the claim persists. The perverted pride of these claims reminds us again of one of the darkest periods in our history.

Last night at Lincoln Center in New York, at an event sponsored by the ACLU and PEN American Center, a sold-out crowd witnessed a moving presentation entitled Reckoning with Torture: Memos and Testimonials from the 'War on Terror.'

Adding to film clips of testimony from former detainees who experienced torture at the hands of the US military at Gitmo and Black Op prisons, were live readings of transcripts and accounts of torture and homicide. Readings also included a transcript from a 2004 speech by President Bush in which he said, "The United States does not torture. It is not who we are."

Perhaps the most moving part of the event were readings by two courageous former officials involved in interrogation who resigned rather than participate in torture. They are Colonel Morris Davis, chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, and Jack Rice, a former CIA special agent and operations officer. Their first-hand testimony gives the lie to claims by the Bush Administration that no torture took place after 2002 in prisons operated by the American military.

The slippery defense that memos from Justice Department lawyers authorizing "enhanced interrogation" was legal is, of course, a travesty of justice but it was also a moral and ethical failure of the first magnitude.

Following the formal presentation Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU, and Steven Isenberg, Executive Director of the PEN American Center, spoke to the crowd to praise the courage of those who spoke and to remind us that none of the detainees who were finally released because there was no evidence of their involvement have been compensated or even told why they were held, some for over six years.

Both Romero and Isenberg pleaded with those us in attendance not to forget and to demand legal action for those guilty of torture. The only real justice, they said, is accountability.