In several months, Sen. Olympia Snowe will retire, concluding a distinguished 34-year career in Congress representing the people of Maine.
But before she leaves Washington, Sen. Snowe faces a choice that will affect her legacy and determine whether the American people will get the real story about the role that torture played in our nation’s efforts to combat terrorism.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is nearing completion of a three-year review of the scope and effectiveness of the so-called “enhanced interrogation” program and how these policies of torture and official cruelty affected our nation’s security.
Sen. Snowe has served on the committee for nearly a decade.
The committee has pored through more than six million pages of records.
Now it must decide if it will adopt the final report detailing the findings of that investigation and whether to make that report available to the American people or to keep the results of its inquiry secret.
Some have sought to politicize this report, trying to paint the review as a partisan witch hunt.
Sen. Snowe knows better and that is why her vote is critical. She should understand that whatever the report shows, as Americans, we deserve to know the truth.
There are also those who continue to claim that torture saved American lives and was instrumental in disrupting terrorist plots.
Former CIA Clandestine Service Director Jose Rodriguez, who boasts of having destroyed 92 videotapes that reportedly show CIA agents waterboarding prisoners, claimed that the CIA’s so-called “enhanced interrogation program” generated the intelligence that led to Bin Laden.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) crowed that “the road to bin Laden began with waterboarding.”
But many others, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who led the CIA at the time of the bin Laden operation, and Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, challenge these claims.
Both Sen. Feinstein and Secretary Panetta have said unequivocally that the torture program had nothing to do with finding bin Laden.
On the contrary, the critical information that led to bin Laden’s hideout was gained through standard interrogation methods that were legal and ethical.
Sen. John McCain (R- Ariz.), who endured years of brutal torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese and has called waterboarding a form of mock execution, agreed.
As he has often reminded us, torture betrays “who we are” as Americans and is conduct unbecoming of a great nation that seeks to lead by example.
In addition, he and scores of retired senior military leaders, as well as experienced interrogators, say that torture not only fails to produce accurate intelligence, it actually undermines our security.
During his confirmation hearing, CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus welcomed a review of interrogation efforts.
The intelligence committee has now conducted that review.
The only thing standing in the way of its ability to “inform future policies” is the support of committee members, including Sen. Snowe, to publish it.
The public release of this report offers the American people the only chance to know and understand the facts about the torture program.
Americans deserve to know the truth about the policies and practices carried out in their name.
Torture is a moral abomination that contradicts the teachings of all religions.
It is degrading to all involved — the victim, perpetrator and policymakers.
It is an egregious violation of the belief that every human being has dignity and worth.
Torture often produces false information as detainees are apt to say anything to try to make their suffering stop.
And experts agree that bad intelligence leads to dead ends that waste precious time and resources.
According to Secretary Panetta, false information gained through torture hindered the hunt for bin Laden for years.
Sen. Snowe has demonstrated moral clarity on torture.
In 2008, when asked whether waterboarding would ever be justified, she replied unequivocally: “Waterboarding is torture and should not be the policy of the United States.”
But without a public accounting of what torture wrought, its proponents will continue to claim that torture, however wrong, is necessary.
The Senate Intelligence Committee should release its report as soon — and as fully — as possible.
Sen. Snowe has one last opportunity to ensure that if Americans are once again presented with the false choice between security and values, we can make it based on facts, not fear.
Elisa Massimino is president and CEO of Human Rights First.
The Rev. Richard L. Killmer of Yarmouth is executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.