After five long years of investigation, declassification, and redaction – not to mention outright obstruction by the CIA – the US Senate Intelligence Committee today shone more light on CIA torture and made a historic and necessary contribution to public scrutiny, debate, and our nation’s values.
The release of the Senate torture report’s 525-page executive summary confirms that state-sanctioned torture is an American story, and no longer one we can ascribe only to odious foreign regimes. It’s a story the CIA wrote on the minds and bodies of its victims, documented in thousands of cables, and lied about to its oversight institutions and the public. It’s a story not just of perpetrators, but also torture architects in the upper echelons of the Bush administration who authorized the torture program and wrote memos seeking to justify it.
The release of the Senate’s torture report summary is a tipping point and a reminder that the United States has never fully reckoned with a past that includes waterboarding, stress positions, beatings, sleep deprivation, threats of harm to children and other family members, among many devastatingly cruel acts. Once again, Americans, all of us, have an opportunity to choose how we end this story, whether that’s responsibly, with a full return to our laws and values, or shamefully, by failing to act now that the report summary is released. A conclusion that begins to heal wounds and rebuild U.S. credibility as a defender of rights instead of a perpetrator of rights violations consists of five parts, all of which work together to ensure that our nation never tortures again.
CIA Reform. The CIA’s spying on Senate Intelligence Committee staffers investigating the agency’s use of torture is one more damning piece of evidence that the CIA urgently needs to be reformed. Congress should ensure the CIA never tortures again by taking two steps. First, Congress must prohibit the CIA from operating any detention facility or holding any person in its custody. Second, Congress should subject the CIA to the same interrogation rules that apply to the military. President Obama rightly ended the torture program when he assumed office. Now it’s Congress’ turn to make sure the CIA never again operates free of the checks and balances our democratic system demands.
Apologize to Victims. With only a handful of exceptions, the U.S. government has not officially acknowledged its torture victims let alone extended formal apologies to those men, women, and children for the horrors our nation inflicted on them. With the Senate torture report’s release, President Obama should rectify this.