Someday the relentless, daily crisis over the presidency of Donald Trump will come to an end. We need to look up and remember that there was a “before” and there will be an “after.” All the wrongs in the United States and in the world did not begin with Trump, nor will they end when he is gone.
The Report, released last November by Amazon Studios, is a film about the CIA’s deeply troubling torture program after 9/11. Despite the disturbing subject matter, I found the film to be oddly inspiring. The Report is a reminder that there were (and are) officials in our government who will do the right thing, even at considerable risk to themselves.
After 9/11, and in a panic to prevent future attacks, the George W. Bush administration authorized the CIA to ignore longstanding rules and laws about the treatment of detainees. The CIA then developed a torture program for imprisoned suspects who were swept up from around the world.
That program proved both brutal and ineffective. CIA officials then made every effort to cover up the truth. They denied and deflected for as long as they could.
A Senate Intelligence Committee investigation was prompted by revelations that Jose Rodriguez, the CIA’s director of the National Clandestine Service, and Gina Haspel, his top deputy – who is now the CIA director – had ordered the destruction of videotapes the CIA had recorded of its torture sessions. The order to destroy the tapes went against specific instructions from the Bush White House, violated a federal court order and was opposed by members of Congress.
“Americans deserve to know what our government did in our name.”
The CIA was required to cooperate with the Senate investigation, but that cooperation was grudging at best. Eventually the agency threatened to prosecute Daniel Jones, the Senate staff person leading the investigation (portrayed in the film by Adam Driver). Despite the threat, Senate staffers working day and night found their way to the facts and finally produced a report. However, only the executive summary of the 6,300-page study was ever made public.
And what were those facts?
The committee’s summary described acts of torture including waterboarding to the point of inducing convulsion and vomiting, as well as cruel forced rectal feedings. One detainee was chained, partly unclothed, to a concrete floor and left to die of hypothermia. Others were stripped, hooded, bound with Mylar tape and dragged through hallways while being slapped and punched. The CIA placed detainees in ice water to induce hypothermia and threatened to harm family members of detainees.
The summary also showed that torture failed to produce useful intelligence and in fact produced false information, because people will say anything to stop being tortured. Further, it revealed that the CIA repeatedly misled Congress, the administration and the Department of Justice about the torture program.
Torture is wrong – legally, morally, militarily – and, for me, religiously. It violates U.S. law, treaty obligations and military codes of conduct. It also violates the basic dignity of the human person made in God’s image. Torture degrades the torturer and the torturing nation, not just the tortured. Torture shocks the conscience. It is so abhorrent that even those who believe they are right to do it always seem to feel the need to cover it up.
Though difficult to watch, The Report is a movie for anyone who wants to understand the CIA’s torture program and the agency’s extensive efforts to cover up the truth about both the program’s cruelty and its ineffectiveness. While this well-made film is not a documentary, the facts about the program and the cover-up are accurate.
In 2015, a bipartisan 78-21 majority of senators voted to require the CIA to abide by the humane standards in the Army Field Manual when conducting interrogations. These standards prohibit torture. The legislation also required that the Red Cross be given access to all detainees. Both these provisions were later signed into law by President Barack Obama.
Unfortunately, despite the law, we still face the possibility that torture will once again be used as an American interrogation technique. President Trump has said that even if torture “doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway.”
Today, more than a decade after the end of the CIA’s torture program, the full 6,300-page report on the program remains classified. It is time for the full report to be made public. Americans deserve to know what our government did in our name.
Truth matters. We shouldn’t have to learn the truth about the CIA’s program of torture from a film. American citizens – especially those who are persons of faith – should not only demand access to all the facts but also declare our clear moral repudiation of torture.
In the end, though, the response of American citizens – especially those who are persons of faith – should be not only to demand access to all the facts but also to declare a clear and complete moral repudiation of torture. For Christians, this should not be a hard call. Torture is a desecration of the human being whom God loves. Torture violates basic human rights, vouchsafed by God.
Torture is what executioners did to Jesus, an atrocity that Jesus’ people must resist, with total moral clarity.