Nothing hurts or disgusts me more than seeing the denial of humanity in any shape or form. One thing that no government or individual has absolutely any right to do is to take one's humanity away by committing human rights violations against individuals or collectives. Torture is one of the ugliest and most despicable of such aggressions. Whether government-sponsored or not, torturing a fellow human being in any situation denies that person's humanity all together.
I believe there is a moral imperative to oppose torture unequivocally, to work hard to prevent it from happening and to work even harder to heal the wounds of torture. It is crucial we try to repair this evil force's many different kinds of destructions, heal its scars and wounds and help the victims of torture to reclaim their humanity. This essential human moral imperative becomes an inescapable obligation if torture is committed by your fellow citizens and in your country's name. Therefore, I am involved in various local, national and international anti-torture initiatives. One of the most notable American organizations doing admirable work in this area is The National Religious Campaign Against Torture. I highly encourage and even beg everyone to check out NRCAT and similar organizations and support them as much as you can.
Last August, I proudly joined nearly 200 other N.C. clergy and religious leaders in sending a joint letter led by the North Carolina Council of Churches to Sen. Richard Burr, who is one of 15 members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. This was done in the spirit of responding to this moral call to claim responsibility for torture committed by fellow Americans and allegedly sponsored by our government. We requested Sen. Burr's support to make the findings of an investigation report, which was based on a review of six million pages of CIA documents and other records into the post-9/11 treatment of terrorism suspects, public. In this letter, we plead to him saying:
We are writing to you as fellow people of faith to support the release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on U.S. treatment of detainees in the post-9/11 period... Our relations with the Muslim world have deteriorated, and the major reason is that our credibility on human rights is under question...The U.S. does not condone torture, but torture has been done by our citizens and in our country's name. Our national security would be improved by restoring the world's respect for U.S. integrity on human rights and adherence to the rule of law... As important as that report is, though, it cannot replace the U.S. government's obligation to be transparent about its past. Our nation needs to learn from the 6,000-page SSCI report. Understanding our past will help us recommit ourselves to respecting human life in the future...
The SSCI voted 9-6 to approve the findings of its investigation, and Sen. Burr was among the six who voted against it. He also opposes making the findings of the investigation public. Just last week, he responded to our joint letter and provided explanation of his position:
"I was deeply concerned about the factual inaccuracies contained within the report, including inaccurate information relating to the details of the interrogation program and other information provided by detainees," Burr wrote. "I believe the American public should be provided with reports that are based on accurate facts."
I cannot tell you how disappointed I am by Sen. Burr's response and by his overall position on this issue. His carefully crafted letter adds a tremendous amount of insult to injury, as it does not reflect any claim or acknowledgement of that moral responsibility that 200 N.C. faith leaders reminded him of in our letter. His response shows no empathy whatsoever to the pain and suffering of numerous victims of alleged torture practices and their loved ones. His reaction is representative of a deeply troubling trend in our government and society to downplay the issue of torture, deny its haunting legacy and ignore its moral implications. Sen. Burr and others like him fall troublingly short in providing the kind of ethical, moral leadership that we need as Americans in the face of these state-sponsored torture allegations. We cannot redeem our souls as Americans from the sins of torture unless we know and find out what exactly happened. We cannot be whom we claim to be -- a civilized nation governed by the rule of law and based on universal human values -- unless we repair the despicable damages that we have caused to victims of torture by bringing those who were responsible to justice and providing a sincere apology and compensation. More importantly, we cannot prevent these inhuman practices from being perpetrated again by our fellow Americans in our country's name if we fail to learn the lessons of our recent ethical moral failures. Concealing information from the public and resisting to acknowledge what exactly happened would be a certain path to such failure.
It may be a cliché, but: If you aren't shocked and dismayed, you aren't paying attention. A simple Google search on the issue of torture or a brief visit to NRCAT's website can provide that much needed wake up call. Action is urgently needed on the issue of torture. I pray that many, if not all, will respond to that call. If not, our own humanity will be in question.
This column was originally published in the Duke Chronicle. It has been reprinted with permission.