Dem Candidates Should Commit to Act on Torture Report
Nearly five years after the world learned in brutal detail how our nation tortured detainees, the candidates for president have an opportunity to do what Donald Trump, Barack Obama, and George W. Bush never did: grapple with our troubling legacy of torture.
Since the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a copy of the executive summary of its landmark torture report, the world has largely moved on. President Trump appointed Gina Haspel, who had direct involvement in our nation’s torture program, to lead the CIA. Past intelligence officials, including former director John Brennan, have continued to assail the report and its findings. And the full report remains locked away at the Department of Justice and in the Obama presidential library.
As the Democratic presidential candidates debate this week in Atlanta, they should make it clear to the public and the party that they will declassify the full report and commit to nominating a CIA director who will pledge to acknowledge the truth about the torture program and lead the agency to institute reforms.
These two steps would go a long way to ensuring that we not only embrace our commitment to human rights as a nation, but also make it clear to the world that torture is brutal, wrong, ineffective and has no place in our world today.
Despite the fanfare of the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, its revelations faded from the public’s view in a matter of days. It’s only back in the news now thanks to filmmaker Scott Burns and the team that produced “The Report,” which is now in theaters.
The feature film chronicles in dramatic fashion what it took to shed light on this dark chapter of our nation’s history. It is powerfully relevant to events unfolding right now. Members of Congress today are engaged in impeachment proceedings as part of their constitutional responsibilities to oversee the executive branch. The senators and staff who struggled to ensure that the truth of the CIA’s program was revealed were driven by the same imperative — to ensure that government actions are conducted within the confines of the rule of law and in the public interest.
But the Senate Intelligence Committee was stymied for years in its oversight efforts to bring that truth to light, all because it revealed policies and actions that former and current CIA and other government officials didn’t want the American people to know. While the release of the 500-page executive summary was a victory for oversight, it only scratched the surface of the details laid out in the full 6,700-page report, which needs to be declassified and made available to the nation.
In order for the United States to move beyond the torture program and to turn the page on this dark chapter, we need a true public reckoning – to include not only the declassification of the full report, but also an honest acknowledgment by CIA leaders that torture is ineffective and that our use of it and the failure to acknowledge it continue to impair America’s moral leadership and influence around the world.
The CIA has made some progress. In order to win confirmation, Haspel admitted that the program “ultimately did damage to our officers and our standing in the world,” and that “the enhanced interrogation program is not one the CIA should have undertaken.” But she also stated that torture yielded “valuable intelligence.” In other words, the CIA maintains to this day that torture works.
Nothing could be further from the truth, and the agency needs leadership with the moral clarity to say so.
Five years on, it is clear that our nation has not truly acknowledged the dark legacy of our torture program. Our current leaders, with only a handful of exceptions, have shown they would rather face the past with a redaction pen. The Democratic candidates — one of whom I pray will be president just over a year from now — should show they are committed to transparency and a new culture at the CIA.
We have always been a forward-looking nation, but we also must be mindful of our own history. That’s the idea at the center of the torture report, and one the Democratic field should commit to this week in Atlanta and act upon in January 2021 in the White House.