February 25

Maine Voices: Release of Senate panel’s report on torture key to guiding public’s views

Knowing the facts will help Americans determine what we want our leaders to do, and not do, on our behalf.

By the Rev. Dr. Marvin M. Ellison

PORTLAND — As a person of faith, ordained minister and professor of Christian ethics for more than three decades, I am passionate about seeking peace, justice and compassion in all things. For this reason, I have joined with the Maine Council of Churches and other faith leaders throughout Maine to call on the Senate Intelligence Committee to release its report to the American people on U.S.-sponsored torture.

about the author

The Rev. Dr. Marvin M. Ellison of Portland taught ethics at Bangor Theological Seminary until 2013.

Torture – by any means and of any person – is morally wrong. It is also illegal, according to international legal standards. In 2007, a global gathering of human rights lawyers and activists outlined a list of basic human rights in the Yogyakarta Principles, named for the Indonesian city where they assembled. No human right is more precious, they acknowledged, than the freedom to be secure in one’s person.

The state has an obligation to protect its residents from violence and bodily harm, no matter if such harm is inflicted by an individual, a group or government officials. A related human right is freedom from torture and from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Honoring these and other basic human rights is how we show our regard for persons as persons. Justice can be defined as giving each person his or her due, and what’s due is whatever is necessary to make human life genuinely human and worth living: food, shelter and a decent job, to be sure, but also human dignity, safety, freedom from violence and abuse, and the freedom to live with self-respect in community with others.

To deny someone any of these fundamental rights is to risk dehumanizing them, reducing them to objects rather than treating them respectfully as fellow human subjects. Acting unjustly not only causes harm to others; injustice also renders the one who does the harm unjust.

Along these lines, torture not only degrades and harms the one tortured. It also dehumanizes and harms the one who tortures. Morally speaking, torture is a lose-lose proposition. Whenever governments allow its use, those governments lose their moral credibility and claim to be advocates of freedom and justice.

The troubling fact is that there is already evidence that our own government has sanctioned the use of torture, or what euphemistically has been misnamed “enhanced interrogation,” even though experts agree that torture does not “work” and does not yield reliable information.

It has been more than 12 years since the Sept. 11 attacks, and five years since President Obama issued an executive order banning the use of torture. It’s imperative that U.S. citizens know the facts about torture and the harm that has been done in our name. The Senate Intelligence Committee has studied the issue thoroughly and produced a 6,000-page document detailing the CIA’s use of torture and its negative consequences. It’s time for that report to be released to the public so that we can know the truth.

Without knowledge, we cannot act in an informed and effective manner. We need to know the truth so that citizens from Maine to California and from Michigan to Florida can discuss these important matters and determine who our leaders should be and what we want them to do – and not do – on our behalf.

The moral wisdom found within every religious tradition is not “torture one another as you, too, have been tortured,” but rather “love one another,” pursue justice, and show compassion to the least of these.

As a person of faith and as a Maine citizen, I urge that our two senators, Susan Collins and Angus King, both of whom sit on the Senate Intelligence Committee, vote to release that committee’s report on torture. They have the power to exemplify respect for persons by upholding the fundamental human right of each and every person to “be secure” and never be subjected to torture or harm, especially by government officials, and especially not in the name of the American people.

By doing the right thing, our elected officials from Maine can once again demonstrate to the nation and to the world that good values makes the best politics.

— Special to the Press Herald

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