COMMENTARY: CIA torture report ought to disturb all our consciences

(RNS) Sunday was Easter, when Christians celebrate Jesus’ rising from the dead. But in light of new revelations of the CIA’s abhorrent acts of torture, it’s the United States that needs resurrection, too. Details of the CIA’s post-Sept. 11 torture campaign — made worse, if that is possible, by evidence of official deception — are described in key portions of the report on CIA-sponsored torture that the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee recently voted to release. Though the public has not yet seen the report, current and former U.S. officials who have read it have disclosed information to The Washington Post, Human Rights Watch and other sources that ought to disturb all of our consciences. The report is said to describe how “CIA doctors monitored the prisoners’ body temperatures” for hypothermia as they were continuously covered with ice water, ensuring that their temperatures would not drop to the point of death so they could be tortured again. Reportedly, the torture got so bad at a “black site” prison in Thailand that “CIA employees left the agency’s secret prison after becoming disturbed by the brutal measures employed there.” In January, The Washington Post reported how the CIA delivered a $15 million cash bribe to the Polish intelligence service to open and maintain a secret torture site in Poland. The lengths that members of our government went to to abuse and dehumanize prisoners make me ill. The United States cannot turn back the clock on the international torture regime that was set up in our name after 9/11. We cannot undo the untold damage that was done to our international reputation, to the safety of our troops in the field or to our collective conscience. We can, however, hope and pray that God forgives us for what our government has done in our name, even though only a handful were ever made aware of the torture as it was being authorized and carried out. We can also act to ensure torture never happens again. I can’t get out of my mind images of what it must have been like in the cold, dark, isolated, lonely and hate-filled rooms where fellow human beings endured the kinds of torture the report is said to expose. People of faith, many of whom have worked for years through the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, know that torture is wrong at all times, for all reasons. Although we should base our opposition to torture on our morals, not pragmatism, reports also indicate torture did not provide critical intelligence and that it was ultimately harmful to our national security. Why then did the CIA, with the blessings of the highest level of U.S. government, unleash a widespread and horrific campaign of torture after 9/11? The faith community and those who care about the U.S. Constitution, or both, should lead a discussion to answer this question in every house of worship, every community center, every street corner in America. Was the CIA simply an extension of each one of us? What is it about a people who profess to be faithful or to care about the rule of law that can so easily unleash the urge to kill and harm other human beings? And what is it about the distorted nature of our culture or our democracy that elevates torture and death-dealing to the level of national policy so we can be “safe”?
The Rev. Ron Stief, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, is executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Photo courtesy of Rev. Ron Stief

The Rev. Ron Stief, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, is executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Ron Stief

This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

We must be concerned for the healing of those who were tortured, and yes, even those who carried out the torture, for we know that those who torture and kill carry lifelong scars as well. But we should also be concerned about the soul of our nation itself. There is nothing safe or right about the situation we now find ourselves in with respect to our country’s history of torture. And where does that leave us, the American people? The shocking and mortifying truth that we tortured people for no good reason will not be easily accepted. On the surface, it makes no sense, and so Americans, unable to believe that their country could do such wrong, will be susceptible to the inevitable denials from the CIA and others of the accuracy of the report. If so, the unseen will remain hidden, and we will learn nothing from its revelations. We shouldn’t have tortured, period. Start there and stay there as a sound moral position, regardless of what those who continue to believe that “torture works” will say. It’s the whole point of approaching life from a perspective of faith, to speak the unspeakable, to shed light on the things unseen — an approach to cherish at moments like this. (The Rev. Ron Stief, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, is executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.)  

45 Responses to “COMMENTARY: CIA torture report ought to disturb all our consciences”

  1. Michele Joseph

    Chuck, I agree whole- heartedly.
    I have felt that there also needs to be courtesy extended to the writers of the articles.
    I know many or most writers read their own articles and the responses
    to them.
    On repeated occasions, I have felt mortified for a writer.
    If nothing else, I am protective, and I leap to their defense.
    If you refer to the first comment of this thread, may e you can see
    what happened here.
    For my part, maybe some have noted I no write articles.
    This causes me grief, because it meant so much to me, but
    I won’t put myself out there to be met with ridicule,sarcasm or contempt.
    I have watched the number of writers dwindle, maybe for the same reason ?
    Unfortunately, i become equally nasty.
    I don’t feel that there are toxic people. As you said,”This has become
    toxic”. I like your wording, because I don’t think there are toxic people,
    I think there are toxic atmospheres.
    Once combat starts, eventually sone others will folllow suit.
    I empathathize keenly with the writers.
    I used to want so badly to write, but I quit, because way too
    often, the first comment that appears is like the first comment that
    appeared about this one.

  2. chuck childers

    I would normally like to comment again here on this topic , but this has become toxic .
    Let’s remember the spirit of this website . As I understand it , It’s to get along while having diverse view points . How do we get so far away from that ? I think it comes by not respecting another writer’s perspective . I can gain understanding from you , and even you from me, all if I am brought along with acceptance of where I’m at .
    How about accepting a person right where they are , with totally ‘ different than me’ opinions , then speak our personal version of truth to them with compassion ? If we perceive them to be off base , how about ‘ liking’ them into our reality ? It can be a strength of unity with us if we keep respect and kindness in our hearts and comments. We’re not here to beat each other up .
    David , I think we need some help here – some guidelines for comments , a reminder statement on the website about comments .

  3. Michele Joseph

    Thank God.

  4. nick batt

    We’re so far off the original post, I’km tired of it.

  5. Denis Eble

    I think that you and I have polar opposite views on this, Nick. I suspect that you believe that we humans can only be ‘good’ if there is a god/God in the sky with a zap gun. Of course he (always male) is referred to as ‘father’ so as to bring back childhood memories of the phrase, “Wait till your father gets home!” Shiver! Quake! Is this correct? The ‘punishing deity.’

    Within the past year I read an excellent book, “Putting Away Childish Things by Uta Ranke-Heinemann. It doesn’t take too much gray matter to figure out her thesis. I’ve done that. I’m an adult and think and act like one. I don’t fear the zap gun in the sky any longer. Do you?

    If there were such a well-armed deity in the sky, why was that zapper silent during the Holocaust? During slavery? During Christian persecution by the Romans?

    Studies by psychologists have shown that children learn right from wrong, i.e. social cognition, not in Sunday School or through Bible reading but through innate memes passed on to all humans due to our need for societal coherence. Child psychologists recognize in children a moral development with an empathic on empathy- almost from birth. We are hard wired to get along with others, a skill no doubt learned since we were hunters and gatherers.

    You may disagree, but I’ve got the science on my side. You have theology and there’s the rub!

  6. Michele Joseph

    That may very well be YOUR level of morality, Nick.
    If you Google “Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development ” ,you will see that that is the absolute lowest level of morality.
    It’s EXTREMELY immature.

  7. nick batt

    When atheists exhibit a sense of morality it is only because they have parasitically absorbed it from the surrounding culture. I said there was no RATIONAL basis. If there is no higher power to whom we are accountable then there is no rational basis to not lie, cheat, steal if we make the judgement that we can get away with it. For example: a guy “works off the books” for cash to avoid taxes; cheats on his wife; arsons his business; etc. Explain to me why not to do these things if there is no God. They all rationally benefit me if I get away with it. No God, no wrong or right.

  8. nick batt

    Unless you acknowledge a power greater than yourself to whom you are accountable; you have no rational basis for morality.

    • Denis Eble

      I beg to differ on that, Nick. I personally know several atheists and each has a very strong moral compass. In fact, they behave (act) in moral ways much better than many Christians that I know. Sorry, but your blanket statement has absolutely zero merit.

  9. Michele Joseph

    Now, listen to me you little putz, what do you know bout the American experience ?
    What do you know about the American experience ?
    You are hateful, you have no understanding, my father would have no understanding of you , but you think you understand Him You have no back ground you have no love shut up.
    BILL does not demand what you do, get thee behind me !
    Bill, Answer mE !
    I am scared.
    Confusion reigns !
    Get thee behind me.
    Nick, you’re an ass..
    Love rules. Even I I am I am wrong, I trust, it will not end in nastiness.
    The end.

  10. nick batt

    Interesting. Using commentary by an atheist to set the standard of morality. He didn’t seem any the worse for wear after the demonstration. I’ve gotten more water in my mouth at the Y.

    • Denis Eble

      Excuse me, but what does being an atheist have to do with moral standards? Is there some parallel between the two? Surely you are not suggesting that one must be a theist to have standards of morality, are you? I think that is what you are saying.

  11. Zappa912

    The US as a country, and some law enforcement and government officials, do not always come in to situations with clean hands. We have used torture. Some government officials have exceeded their authority, or violated the Constitutional rights of individuals. Some law enforcement officers have used excess force. Some prosecutors have used illegal tactics to win cases. Clearly, we have not been a perfect country. The challenge for us as a people is whether we will continue to hold our government officials and law enforcement officers to the higher standard set out in our Constitution and law, or allow ourselves to lower our standards as a shortcut to convenient justice. Choosing the higher road is not the easiest choice, but it is still the right choice. Still an ideal worth pursuing.

  12. Josie Setzler

    I’d like to recommend an op-ed in the April 11 Washington Post written by Eric T. Fair who worked as a contract interrogator in Iraq in 2004. He had this to say about what he did: “Still, those tactics stained my soul in an irrevocable way, maybe justifiably so. But as members of our government and its agencies continue to defend our use of torture, and as the American people continue to ignore their obligation to uncover this sordid chapter, the stain isn’t mine alone.”

  13. Michele Joseph

    Nick, I find it hilariously hypocritical that YOU, of all people, would be sputtering in outrage while accusing people of ” changing the meaning of words to suit their biases”. It’s pure projection.You are the master of that practice, the twisting of words.
    I have searched & scrolled through this entire thread, and I can’t find a single
    phrase or sentence that would indicate that anyone hates America or thinks “America is always the bad guy” or is anti-American.
    I see many remarks indicating that people are anti- TORTURE, and incidents of atrocities everywhere in the world.
    And that YOU should be accusing anyone of hubris or a distorted sense of morality —– well, that is laughable.
    Splitting hairs & making distinctions and and making it situational & relative- if
    so- so did it,then it’s different or if the CIA did it different or the military , it’s different or Bozo the clown – none of it- it makes not a whit of difference.
    No matter who did it or where, in this country not in this country, for what reason, by water-boarding, or electricity, or sound or sleep depravation or forncing people to watch ininterrupted FOX news until they slit their own throats,
    Torture is wrong. Its wrong. Always, Everywhere. By any means. For any reason.
    No matter who does it.
    And if you think otherwise, it is you who has a distorted sense of morality .

  14. nick batt

    Its pointless to engage with you folks that start with the premise that the US is always the bad guy; who change the meaning of words to suit their biases. The conduct at Abu Grahb did not involve the CIA (the topic of the article) and was not authorized by the Army chain of command. Those involved received various disciplinary sanctions. President Obama declined to take disciplinary action in the case of CIA interrogations even though he campaigned against enhanced interrogation and ended it when he was elected. Whether these techniques are good policy can be legitimately debated but they are lawful and moral. The subjects were unlawful combatants. they were not covered by the Geneva Convention regarding the treatment of Prisoners of War. All they would have had to do to claim those rights would be to don a uniform and fight as an organized military. Crying for them when they have committed crimes against humanity demonstrates an incredible level of hubris and a distorted sense of morality.

  15. Christy Besozzi

    Here’s an article from 2007 by a former JAG officer on waterboarding titled “Waterboarding Used to be a Crime” –

    He describes how several Japanese soldiers from WW2 were convicted of torturing our soldiers through the use of waterboarding techniques.

    If these techniques are considered as torture when used against our troops, then our military should be held to the same standard.

  16. Craig

    ” reports also indicate torture did not provide critical intelligence and that it was ultimately harmful to our national security. ”
    Any form of torture just doesn’t work . All of us will say anything to stop it .
    I wonder how many here have experienced the ” discomfort ” of nearly drowning ( water boarding ) . I nearly drowned when I was young and the sense of panic of not being able to breathe is horrible beyond words .

  17. Michele Joseph

    Yes, Christy, me, too. I’m really confused. This is really disappointing, Nick,
    that you should turn out to be a torture-lover, especially considering your recent outstanding article promoting tomorrows’ Compassionate Community Convention. Stellar article. Nick ! I didn’t know you had it in you ! 😉

  18. Christy Besozzi

    Also, I am totally mystified. I cannot connect the dots between a discussion on the legitimacy of the use of torture to accusing people of hating America.

    The gap between the two is the size of the Grand Canyon.

    • Denis Eble

      Christy- that rhetoric is very commonplace in right-wing media. Everyone with whom that media disagrees with is referred to as anti-American, a hater of America.

      Those insults (and much worse) were hurled at those of us who protested the run-up to the War on Iraq. Odd that we were un-American trying to stop a war that turned out to be specious and unnecessary. A war that killed thousands of our own military and left tens of thousands of our military with permanent injuries and amputations. A war that drained billions of tax dollars from our Treasury. A war that defamed the reputation of our nation in the Abu Ghraib torture incidents.

      That war. Yet I was un-American! I was a ‘traitor!’ I was the one who hated America!

      Imagine that, will ya!

  19. Christy Besozzi

    The words of Jesus:

    “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matt. 5:44)


    “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also.” (Luke 6:27)

    Doesn’t seem to leave any room for excuses to torture people…

  20. Denis Eble

    Sad to read the pro-torture cheering. Where is Jesus in all of this hate? Where would Jesus stand on this?

  21. Michele Joseph

    You’re living in reality.
    Good, that’s good to hear.
    Then you know how astoundingly awful you look, and have looked from your
    first post this morning.
    Responding to the Rev. “Blah, blah, Blah…..” to a Rev. !!
    Now- “America haters!” America haters??
    So good- I’m glad you’re living in reality, so you know you look deranged.
    Or, maybe just more attention-seeking- more of the tired act…..”NIck
    disagrees” 😮
    BTW, Google waterboarding & get educated.

  22. nick batt

    I know you America haters will never give up. Water boarding is the only thing that comes close to torture and it inflicts no suffering. Only discomfort. As noted above it’s something our troops do as part of their training. The fact that our guys volunteer is irrelevant. I’m still waiting for an answer on bin laden. These despicable B******* got fat at Gitmo. So tell yourself whatever makes you feel good. I’m living in reality.

  23. Josie Setzler

    Veritatis Splendor does not cite the Geneva Conventions to limits its use of the word torture in its moral teaching, Nick. The document does not define the word. We might guess the intended meaning from the context in which Veritatis Splendor uses the word torture: “whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit.” A more recent and specific agreement than the Geneva Conventions is the U.N. Convention Against Torture (1987), which has been informing thinking on torture in the last 35+ years. It defines torture thus: “For the purposes of this Convention, the term “torture” means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

  24. Michele Joseph

    Yes, because 9/11 never really happened, it was just a huge well-orchestrated, year long, TV show, made to distract us from the recent discovery that the moon is flat.
    Thanks, Obama ! 😉

  25. nick batt

    I am well aware of Pope John Paul the Great’s comments but they are inapplicable since no torture was used.

  26. Josie Setzler

    Nick, I’d like to point out that Pope John Paul II used torture as an example of an intrinsically evil act. See his encyclical Veritatis Splendor, paragraph 80. He writes about “acts which, in the Church’s moral tradition, have been termed “intrinsically evil” (intrinsece malum): they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances.” Arguments about torture’s effectiveness or the threats we endure or the intentions of our government do not enter into this argument. Torture is intrinsically evil, according to the Catholic Church. Period.

  27. Michele Joseph

    Unfortunately, Bahai’s, also suffer from inhuman persecution in Iran.
    Our seven leaders, the Yaran, are in Evin prison, suffering torture daily.They are serving what is essentially a life sentence there, their treatment is so bad, they will not survive.
    In Iran, this is just what happens to Bahai’s along with confiscasion of property& businesses, denial of the right too higher education, torture, desecration of graves & holy sites.
    Violence & torture are symptoms -evidence of depraved minds. A mind that can justify it for any reason is deeply disturbed.
    I read once of a war that was stopped in it’s tracks like this: the women refused
    the men sex until they stopped. They stopped. BADA BING BADA BOOM.
    Unkindness must be stopped at it’s source- in the mind.
    Women, refuse to give an unkind man the time of day. Marry the kindest you can find. Kind children will be born and raised kindly.
    Enough of that-unkind men will slink off to their caves & die without progeny
    No woman who has known the love of a kind man would dream of wasting time on a lesser model.
    There is where it begins & ends – the mothers.
    Mothers- teach them to be kind, in their thoughts, words, deeds.
    Accept nothing less. Meanness is the mortal sin.

  28. nick batt

    To be clear, the 2 by chuck. Denis snuck in ahead of me.

  29. nick batt

    Amen to both of the last 2 comments.

  30. chuck childers

    This CIA stuff is a cakewalk in comparison. US special forces soldiers undergo waterboarding as part of their survival training.

    • Denis Eble

      Trouble is, Chuck, Special Forces volunteered to be weatherboarded. They get paid for it, too.

  31. chuck childers

    How come no one , NO ONE , ever on these pages decries the horrific beheadings , persecution , beating, rape , etc of thousands of Christian men and women all over the Mideast . Open your eyes people . .
    It’s daily, it’s pervasive , it’s real

    • Denis Eble

      Here is the mission statement from the website Chuck provided: our mission is to help “all persecuted Christians who affirm the Apostles’ Creed and believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God.” Well, seems quite exclusive to me. They only help a certain Christian. Wow! How exclusive. I wonder if they screen the ‘persecuted’ Christian before they ‘help’ them?

  32. Michele Joseph

    Dead on, Christy, dead on.

  33. Christy Besozzi

    RE: article – “Why then did the CIA, with the blessings of the highest level of U.S. government, unleash a widespread and horrific campaign of torture after 9/11?”

    To me it is obvious that they were angry that they all messed up and the terrorists were able to successfully strike us. They were taking out their anger for being unveiled as not being the perfect, unerring organizations they try to present themselves as being.

    The horrific, large-scale terrorist strike of Sept. 11, 2001 could not be denied or covered up. Their mistakes were made obvious to all – repeatedly as the video of the plane ramming into the World Trade Center was replayed over and over and over….

    Thus, for their being shown to be impotent to the whole wide world, they retaliated in anger by way of torturing anyone they could get their hands on. …And, of course, by invading 2 countries in an effort to cover up their impotence.

  34. Michele Joseph

    !! what a surprise. Nick disagrees. :-0 !

  35. nick batt

    The CIA did what it did after 9/11 because POTUS pursuant to Congressional authorization lawfully directed them to respond to the terrorist attack and to protect the American people from further attack. Which is worse; a medically supervised enhanced interrogation or a bullet between the eyes that bin laden got?

  36. Michele Joseph

    Q. “Why then, did the CIA …………unleash a widespread and horrific campaign
    of torture after 9/11?”
    A. Because psychopathology is incurable and epidemic.

  37. Michele Joseph


  38. nick batt

    Blah, blah, blah. I could go through a description how what the US did wasn’t torture within the terms of the Geneva Conventions but since this part of the America Haters Nicene Creed I say blah.

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