Maine Voices: It’s time to tell Americans the whole truth about CIA torture program
A new movie based on a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation makes clear how much we still don’t know.
By Jill Saxby Special to the Press Herald
CAPE ELIZABETH — A deeply divided nation. Mounting evidence of wrongdoing and cover-up. Officials twisting legal theory into self-justifying knots. The executive branch refusing to produce witnesses and documents for a crucial congressional investigation. Computers hacked. Documents redacted. And – the one bright spot – patriotic civil servants willing to risk their careers to uncover and tell the truth.
No, not today’s breaking news. This political drama actually took place between 2003 and 2014, when the CIA engaged in a failed program of torturing detainees at “black sites,” destroyed evidence, then attempted to keep the truth from the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, from the American people and from the eyes of history.
“The Report,” Amazon’s new political drama, tells the true story of committee staffer Dan Jones (portrayed by Adam Driver), who, with a small staff, spent five years wading through 6 million pages of documents to discover the truth about the CIA’s torture program.
The film shows the horrific reality of Americans torturing prisoners, but also shows how officials continually resisted oversight, misled investigators and avoided accountability. To this day, we’ve seen only a redacted 500-page executive summary of the 6,000-page final report formally adopted by the committee on Dec. 9, 2014.
But another piece of the story is not shown in “The Report”: the role of citizen advocacy. During the years featured in the film, our Maine senators Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Angus King held key votes on the Intelligence Committee. Faith-based Maine advocates, including denominational leaders, clergy and lay people of several faiths, had already spent years demanding a Truth Commission on Torture. Once the Senate investigation began, we met with the senators and Intelligence Committee staff multiple times, wrote letters and op-eds, signed petitions and supported organizations such as the interfaith National Religious Campaign Against Torture and the Maine Council of Churches. When the time came, we were proud and relieved when each of our Maine senators voted in favor of trusting the American people with the truth.
When the summary report was released, we all learned what had been done in our name. It’s a catalog of cruelty: dozens of detainees subjected to waterboarding to the point of convulsions, “walling,” medically unnecessary rectal feedings; chaining in stress positions; ice baths that induced hypothermia; confinement in coffin-size and smaller boxes; sleep deprivation and more. One detainee died of hypothermia, chained to a concrete floor. The CIA wasted more than $80 million to hire (and indemnify) two inept contractors who designed the torture techniques. In the end, all the brutality produced zero actionable intelligence. At appalling moral, political and practical costs, it didn’t work.
The release of the summary report felt like a victory for accountability. But in the five years since, we’ve seen no prosecutions and no official admissions of moral failure or faulty legal reasoning. Gina Haspel, who oversaw one of the black sites where torture occurred and participated in the decision to destroy evidence, is now CIA director.
We forget all this recent history at our peril. “The Report” is a stark reminder of how easily moral truths can get twisted into absurdity. All it takes is allowing those in power to operate in the shadows, and the willingness of the rest of us to look away.
It’s time for the full report – all 6,000 pages – to be released.
Truth matters. Without truth, government is unaccountable. Without accountability, democracy becomes a farce of revolving doors and partisan posturing. Human rights don’t stand a chance against the raw assertion of unchecked power. Then the lie rules, and the bigger the lie the more it disguises itself until “truth” becomes no more than opinion and citizenship no more than rooting for your favored team to win.
In the long experiment of democratic self-rule, there’s nothing really new here. As we give our consent to those we elect to act in our name, will we insist on truth and accountability, or not? Eventually, history will issue its own report.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The Rev. Jill Saxby of Cape Elizabeth is former executive director of the Maine Council of Churches and a former board member of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.