By LINDA J. GUSTITUS
c. 2011 Religion News Service
(RNS) Immediate claims by supporters of the Bush administration’s torture program that Osama bin Laden was found and killed based on information obtained through torture leaves one almost breathless.
Disregarding the absence of clear facts, and overeager to justify an illegal operation, Bush-era officials and others are already claiming that the use of waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” led to finding and killing bin Laden.
But let’s be clear: Reality is always more complicated than the news cycle. We still don’t know what, exactly, led to finding bin Laden, and shouting is often more bluster than truth.
The use of torture by the U.S. after 9/11 hurt us significantly. Just as photos of abuse at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison were used as a major recruiting tool by al-Qaida, revelations of U.S.-sanctioned torture have cost us the good will of people who could have helped us locate bin Laden years earlier.
It took the United States almost 10 years and at least $1 trillion to locate bin Laden. Imagine if we hadn’t made the terrible mistake of turning to torture, and how much sooner we might have found him if we had squandered our support with countries across the Islamic world.
Torture has many consequences, and all of them are self-defeating. First, of course, it dehumanizes the individual — both the tortured and the torturer. It also creates enemies — passionate enemies — who feel compelled to respond to the degradation and pain inflicted upon them.
Torture also stains the soul of the torturing nation. In the case of the United States, our embrace of torture placed us in the same league as the countries we disdain for their failure on human rights.
It also results in unreliable information that can cause terrible damage. Just recall the statement by Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, that information that Saddam Hussein was working with al-Qaida was obtained through torture and ended up being wrong; it’s part of what led us to launch a war against Iraq.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, forged by the horrors of two world wars and Nazi atrocities, later gave birth to the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which has the support of 147 countries, including the United States.
The treaty prohibits the use of torture under all circumstances, without exception. Because it deems torture as reprehensible as genocide and slavery, it also establishes universal jurisdiction, meaning any country can bring a case against someone who has engaged in torture, regardless of where the torture was committed or where the torturer resides.
Authors and perpetrators of the Bush torture program know that regardless of whether they ever face prosecution here at home, the could be prosecuted elsewhere. Hence, the shouting.
Besides being illegal, torture is also profoundly immoral. As the National Religious Campaign Against Torture has said, “Torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions, in their highest ideals, hold dear … It contradicts our nation’s most cherished values. Any policies that permit torture and inhumane treatment are shocking and morally intolerable.”
The proponents of the Bush torture program are hoping we learn the wrong lesson, that at least when it comes to bin Laden, the ends certainly justify the means. But to do so would be an irreversible mistake.
Now, more than ever, we need a government-sponsored Commission of Inquiry with full subpoena power to publicly expose the full extent and consequences of the torture program. Supporters of the Bush torture program should welcome a Commission of Inquiry; if they believe what they say, they should not be afraid of the facts.
We all should know the truth about torture. Nothing is more important for the soul of America at this time than a complete and unlimited review of the U.S. torture program.
(Linda J. Gustitus is president of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. She lives in Washington, D.C., and is a longtime member of River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bethesda, Md.)