A great conflict over the morality of torture and the rule of law is unfolding in our nation. As people of faith, we feel a special duty to bear witness, and to call upon our elected leaders for moral and prompt action.
The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee has produced a 6,300-page report on the way our nation treated its detainees for years following the awful tragedy of 9/11. That report is the first step, and a highly significant one, toward achieving transparency and at least a small measure of justice.
North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr sits on the Intelligence Committee, which oversees the CIA and has spent several years preparing the report. Although Burr voted against it, the landmark report was approved by a bipartisan vote of 9 to 6 in December 2012. It has remained secret ever since, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the committee, has announced plans to bring its release to a vote shortly.
According to insiders, the report concludes the U.S. engaged in systematic enforced disappearance and torture, that it was largely ineffective, and that our national interests were harmed. A non-governmental bipartisan task force reached the same result nearly a year ago, but it lacked the Senates access to classified documents.
Despite a letter signed by more than 190 faith leaders from North Carolina, Burr has not told us where he stands on the immediate question with this report: Should the American people be told what it says? Does he feel we have a right to know what has been done in our names?
Indeed, the question of torture is on our agenda here in North Carolina. A large body of evidence links an aviation company at the Johnston County Airport to dozens of secret detainee transfers to third-country prisons or CIA black sites, where torture waited at the end of the flight. Since 2005, a network of North Carolinians has been urging an investigation of our states role.
As people of faith, we believe that all human beings should be treated with dignity even our enemies. To systematically brutalize human beings in our power is a terrible violation of our collective humanity. Every faith tradition abhors torture. Like rape and genocide, torture is out of bounds because it tips humanity toward descent into barbarism.
The debate about torture in the U.S. has progressed without the facts. The public has mainly been informed by TV shows and movies that glorify cruelty toward captives and misrepresent the fruits of torture. According to experienced military interrogators, information gained under torture is almost always false or misleading. It generates wild-goose chases that waste time and resources.
Nothing less is at stake here than the rule of law, a birthright of all Americans. Humane treatment of captives is a basic principle on which the U.S. has insisted in past wars. If our government can indefinitely detain people and abuse them without consequence, we have lost a fundamental piece of the bedrock upon which our nation was founded.
Torture is not a partisan issue. Among the Republicans who have called for transparency are Sen. John McCain, Sen. Olympia Snowe, former Rep. Asa Hutchinson, and former Utah state legislator and retired brigadier general David R. Irvine.
As Burrs constituents, we ask him to speak out about one of the great moral issues of our time. We ask him to share with North Carolinians what he believes about torture, and whether he feels it has made our nation safer. And we urge him to vote to release the Senate report in as much of its entirety as possible, so that Americans may have all the facts upon which to base a sorely needed and better-informed debate.
Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, is head of The United Methodist Church, North Carolina Conference. The Rev. Steve Hickle is president-elect of the North Carolina Council of Churches.