Americans Deserve the Facts on Torture
By Benita Coffey
I grew up during the second world war in a time of overwhelming patriotism; our military was the finest and our country the greatest. I was proud of our land and its leaders.
Unfortunately, times have changed since the days of our “greatest generation,” and our nation’s moral compass has shifted. I’m still patriotic. I still love America and treasure the ideals of our founding fathers. But it is hard to be proud of a nation where our leaders have condoned torture and where those in power withhold information from its citizens. Our leaders have become a model of abuse of power, of disregard for the value of human beings and of unspeakably cruel behavior. Though President Barack Obama issued an executive order banning the use of torture as an interrogation technique or punishment, he has yet to close the most significant symbol of U.S. torture, the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, which he also promised to do.
I am deeply saddened that we have stooped this low. I am fearful of what might come next, if we do not assume our responsibility to uphold the common good and assure that what is done in this country reflects who we are as people of faith—and as Americans.
Admittedly, until the news reported police torture in Chicago and the atrocities at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, I didn’t think about torture. The fact that it was going on seemed incredible, and I felt powerless. But, I refuse to be a bystander.
Torture is an egregious violation of the dignity and worth of each and every person. It dishonors the teachings of all major religions and goes against the virtues we instill in our children—to treat all people with the respect they deserve.
In 1994, the United States signed the U.N. Convention Against Torture, agreeing that “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.” Our government has openly disregarded this agreement, setting a scary precedent and posing scarier questions—what is next on this slippery slope? Our leaders must be held accountable.
Thanks to efforts such as the Senate Intelligence Committee’s three-year investigation into CIA torture, U.S. sponsored torture is no longer a secret, and today is front and center in the media and in Hollywood. But even with all of the attention, it can be hard to discern the truth.
“Zero Dark Thirty,” an Academy Award-nominated film, shows the insidious, abusive treatment of prisoners at the hands of a CIA agent and her colleagues who are engaged in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
The movie may have led to the glorified presumption that information attained through torture is what directly led to the finding of bin Laden. The notion that torture was effective has been denied by top officials including soon-to-be-retiring Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, former CIA Director Michael Hayden, acting CIA Director Michael Morell and multiple senators, including John McCain, who said, “It was not torture, or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees that got us the major leads that ultimately enabled our intelligence community to find Osama bin Laden.”
This is why the government must be transparent about its past use of torture and release the report to the public. In a world where Hollywood, the media and even the government are spewing fiction about the realities of torture, Americans deserve to know the truth.
Sister Benita Coffey belongs to the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago and is a member of the Illinois Coalition Against Torture, which is part of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.
This piece originally appeared in The Chicago Tribune on February 13, 2013.