Dear Vice President Cheney:
As one of those Americans who voted for you in two elections, the excerpts from your new book and recent interviews you've given remind me of what has caused me the most regret. You sullied the good name of the United States of America around the globe when you authorized the use of torture.
During trips to North Africa and the Middle East, I've witnessed firsthand the loss of respect that Americans now confront. Ordinary citizens have asked me, "Do you know that your government, allegedly a 'Christian country,' is conducting torture? You should be ashamed."
Well, I am ashamed of my country and what it did.
Americans pride ourselves that, unlike many other nations, we operate by the rule of law. But you broke the law, sir. And we as a nation should hold you personally accountable for violations of U.S. law and our most fundamental moral standards.
Amazingly, you claim "no regrets" for authorizing waterboarding, and even write that you would do it again. You and your colleagues made this decision, as former President George W. Bush revealed in his memoir, openly and proudly. ("Damn right," is how he put it.) A similar tone
comes through in your own memoir.
In order to believe that you didn't break the law, you must also believe that waterboarding isn't torture. Psychologists report that we as human beings are excellent at lying to ourselves and we tend to believe what we want to believe. But the "right to believe anything" does not mean that "anything anyone believes is right."
In order to justify our actions, we deny the truth that we know is needed to cleanse our conscience. And without some cleansing of our national conscience, I fear that future leaders will attempt to subvert the laws of the land in a similar way.
Waterboarding is unquestionably torture. You cannot sugarcoat it or simplify it by calling it a mere dunk in the water. It was administered to produce severe mental and physical anguish, and it was done to scare the victim into a desperate condition where he would talk -- even though any "information" acquired through torture is known to be unreliable.
Waterboarding is torture under the U.N. Convention Against Torture; it was torture when we prosecuted our own soldiers in Vietnam and Japanese soldiers after World War II for using it; and it is torture under any application of common sense.
Moreover, torture is morally wrong. I join with the 300 organizations that belong to the National Religious Campaign Against Torture in affirming that torture is wrong -- unequivocally and always wrong. It is illegal, immoral and unjustified under any and all situations. It breaks us as human beings, it destroys our divine spark, and it corrupts the soul.
There is no wiggle room for torture here. There shouldn't be. And yet you and President Bush both acknowledge authorizing torture. And you show no shame in doing so. And you even say you would do it again "if circumstances arose where we had a high-value detainee and that was the only way we could get him to talk."
With all due respect, sir, this position is wholly inadequate and unjustifiable.
U.S.-sponsored torture has cost us dearly. Torture does not make us safer; it makes us more of a target by inspiring our enemies. More importantly, it undermines our moral standing as a nation.
If America is, as political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville put it, "a nation with the soul of a church," then some national responsibility and moral accounting needs to occur. Our nation's soul risks corruption when our highest elected leaders admit to violating U.S. law and international law by authorizing the use of torture.
Like many others, I have come to the conclusion that there is only one course for our country to take. We must establish a Commission of Inquiry to fully investigate all aspects of the use of torture by the United States, and to help ensure that U.S.-sponsored torture never happens again. We must face the gravity of the mistake of torture, we must cleanse our national conscience and we must have a Commission of Inquiry to redeem this dark period and prevent such a serious sin from ever happening again.
Mr. Cheney, you brought us to this place. Shame on you!
Rev. Richard Cizik
A version of this post originally appeared via Religion News Service.
(The Rev. Richard Cizik, a former vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, is now president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, a member of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.)