The Rev. Susan Gabrielson: An opportunity to ensure America will not torture again


In November 2008, the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee issued a report on the U.S. military’s use of torture. Our soldiers and sailors were better off for that report because while it disclosed hard, painful facts, it also helped ensure that our military could not be misused by those in authority to carry out human rights abuses that are contrary to the ideals of our fighting women and men.

In the early 2000s, I was just starting out in ministry and was horrified when the Abu Ghraib photographs were released. In my righteousness, I never dreamed my country would involve itself in such horrific acts of torture. Of course, our government leaders quickly moved to dissociate themselves from those sickening acts — claiming that they were the work of a few bad apples.

We have since learned, though, that those same leaders ordered the CIA to torture prisoners.

I imagined my colleagues serving as chaplains in the military and the impossible job they had in ministering under such horrifying circumstances.

It has been more than 12 years since the Sept. 11 attacks and almost five years since the president issued an executive order banning the use of torture. When, as a person of faith, I consider our obligation to social justice, my priority is to completely understand the challenges and issues we face. This has been challenging when it comes to understanding torture and our government’s lack of accountability.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has produced a more than 6,000-page document detailing the CIA’s use of torture and its outcomes. That report should be released to the public so that people can all know the full truth.

As people of faith and moral conscience, how else are we to ensure that the necessary safeguards are in place so that incidents of torture do not happen again?

Working as the director of the Religious Coalition Against Discrimination and as a part of the Maine Council of Churches, I am privileged to witness colleagues and people of faith across all traditions able to come together for a common purpose — our shared humanity. This is an issue that demands our unanimity.

Both Maine senators, Susan Collins and Angus King, are members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. They have the power to determine whether the report on torture is released to the public or hidden away in a backroom preventing the public from ever learning the truth.

I ask them, as a citizen of Maine and as a person of faith and integrity, to please vote to release the report on torture. It is time for transparency in order to ensure that the U.S. government never again engages in torture.

Torture is immoral, runs contrary to the teachings of all religions and dishonors all faiths. It is an egregious violation of the dignity and worth of every human being — both the torturer and the victim.

Through the spirit of the Golden Rule, which is present in some form in every faith tradition, we understand that torture should not be perpetrated on others because we would not want others to torture us.

Furthermore, torture is illegal, without exception.

In 1994, the United States signed the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which binds the U.S. to the following stipulation: “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.”

I worry that too many people may believe that under certain circumstances, the use of torture is justified. Most of us have no direct experience with torture, and we are influenced by video games, films and TV programs that reinforce a false notion by portraying torture as an effective tool. Releasing the report may provide enough factual information to counteract the fiction and prove that torture is counterproductive.

I call upon Sens. Collins and King to vote to release this report. It is too important to miss this opportunity to help ensure that torture never happens again.

The Rev. Susan Gabrielson is executive director of the Religious Coalition Against Discrimination. She lives in Yarmouth