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On torture and the truth

Archbishop Wenski calls on Senate committee to release report on U.S. use of torture

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Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical “The Splendor of Truth,” clearly articulated the teaching of the Catholic Church on torture. He declared that like “genocide, abortion, [and] euthanasia” torture is “intrinsically evil.” It is an act that cannot be morally justified under any circumstances. Pope Benedict XVI said in 2007, “I reiterate that the prohibition against torture ‘cannot be contravened under any circumstances.’ ” Torture undermines and debases the human dignity of both victims and perpetrators.

For the past three years, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) has been conducting an investigation into the use of torture by the CIA. It is likely that the SSCI, of which Sen. Bill Nelson is a member, will vote soon on whether to approve and release the report.

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'It is time for the results of that investigation to be made public to help ensure that our government does not engage in torture again. The public needs to understand the nature of torture, including its illegality, immorality and ineffectiveness.'
In the past, I have written letters to Congress urging passage of legislation to prohibit torture as an interrogation technique. I now call for the release of the SSCI investigation report, as does the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. As people of faith we believe that truth will set us free — the splendor of truth. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. 

It is time for the results of that investigation to be made public to help ensure that our government does not engage in torture again. The public needs to understand the nature of torture, including its illegality, immorality and ineffectiveness. 

Torture is a moral abomination. It runs contrary to the teachings of all religions and is an egregious violation of the dignity of each and every person. Torture is degrading to all involved — the victim, the perpetrator and any society that tolerates its practice. Condoning torture not only undermines our moral credibility in the world, but also erodes our own self-understanding as a people dedicated to the proposition that all men, created equal, “are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights . . . ” Human dignity is undermined once we allow ourselves to pursue an ethic of ends justifying means.

A “might makes right” posture undermines the rule of law and opens the door to tyranny. The foundation of security, justice and peace in an open society must be based on respect for the dignity of every person, ally or enemy. There can be no compromise on the moral imperative to protect the basic human rights of all individuals. Terrorism does incite fear; but we cannot allow fear to dehumanize us as we seek to respond to very real threats.

The United States should hold itself to the highest ethical standards and fully comply with its commitments to observe international law in its treatment of detainees. 

Under international law torture is illegal. It has long been U.S. policy to support the Geneva Convention, including Common Article 3 that prohibits “cruel treatment and torture” as well as “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment . . . ” 

In 1994, the United States signed the U.N. Convention Against Torture that declares: “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.”

There are also practical reasons to oppose torture. Former CIA and FBI experts have repeatedly stated that torture is not effective in producing reliable information. It is also true that torture is counterproductive in that it undermines our moral authority, generates anger overseas, and can assist terrorists in attracting recruits.

It is good that a January 2009 Presidential Directive halted the use of torture by the United States, but more must be done. Its provisions should be adopted as the law of the land so no future administration can authorize torture. 

Our government is accountable to the people. If our citizens do not understand and know about past torture policies and practices of the U.S. government, they will not be able to hold our government accountable.
Releasing the results of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into CIA interrogation practices will provide that information.

Knowing the truth about any situation is powerful. Understanding the truth about U.S.-sponsored torture can help ensure that it will never occur again.

This article originally appeared Nov. 14, 2012, in the Opinion section of The Miami Herald. Archbishop Wenski has just been elected chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

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