With control of the U.S. Senate shifting to Republican hands in January, Sen. Richard Burr is likely to take the helm of the Senate Intelligence Committee. This expands his influence on one of the gravest moral crises of our time: impunity for torture.
The lame-duck session is coming to a close, and with it will go the chances of learning what is in the still-secret 6,000-page Intelligence Committee report on CIA-directed torture. We worry because in March, Burr told reporters, “I personally don’t believe that anything that goes on in the intelligence committee should ever be discussed publicly. Certainly classified information, it’s breaking the law to discuss that. If I had my way, with the exception of nominees, there would never be a public intelligence hearing.”
U.S.-directed torture is a dishonorable, festering problem ignored by leaders of both parties in the federal government and in North Carolina.
The CIA subjected more than 135 captives to “extraordinary rendition,” or secret kidnapping and transport to overseas locations where they were detained indefinitely and interrogated using torture. At least 30 of these men were transported by pilots, planes and crews of Aero Contractors, based at the Johnston County Airport in Smithfield and the Global TransPark in Kinston. A large body of evidence leaves little doubt.
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Tortures documented by a bipartisan task force for the Constitution Project included simulated drowning, forced nudity, sexual humiliation, slapping and slamming against walls, beatings, extremes of heat and cold, prolonged restraint in painful stress positions, prolonged sleep deprivation, long-term detention in the dark, confinement in small spaces with insects and prolonged exposure to loud noises.
Begun in 2009, the 6,000-page “torture report” was formally adopted by Senate Intelligence in December 2012. A bipartisan majority of the committee voted in April to publicly release a 500-page executive summary. Burr joined that majority – after receiving a letter from more than 190 North Carolinian faith leaders as well as emails, postcards and phone calls from many more Tar Heels. We are grateful he listened to North Carolinians who contacted him for 18 months, asking him to help make the report public.
Sadly, President Obama then gave the job of redacting the summary of CIA conduct to the CIA. The fox guarded these hens by blacking out enough to make the document unintelligible. Senators have objected to the excessive redaction, and the summary remains secret (let alone the other 5,500 pages). Some think the Obama administration was hoping a Republican takeover of the Senate would bury the report for good.
Poised to chair the intelligence committee, Burr now has additional influence to help get the report out. And tackling U.S. torture is not a partisan issue. By shining light on CIA rendition and torture and on our state’s considerable role in torture-related aviation, Burr would be giving us the moral leadership we’ve been missing from most leaders of both parties.
Two Democratic governors received authoritative documentation of North Carolina’s part in torture and apparently did nothing. Prominent Republicans who have called for torture transparency include Rep. Asa Hutchinson, Sen. John McCain, Sen. Lindsey Graham and retired Army Brigadier General David Irvine. A September survey by Raleigh’s own Public Policy Polling found that a majority of Americans of all political stripes want the Senate torture report released.
Furthermore, the international community is urging it. In October, a dozen Nobel laureates called on President Obama for “full disclosure to the American people of the extent and use of torture and rendition by American soldiers, operatives, and contractors, as well as the authorization of torture and rendition by American officials.” Among the Nobel winners were F.W. de Klerk, former president of apartheid South Africa, and anti-apartheid leader Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Our safety and our democracy are best defended by coming clean on torture and dealing with what we learn. People of faith and conscience from all political parties want us to confront the truth and take responsibility for it. We call on Burr, even before he assumes the Senate Intelligence chairmanship, to work with outgoing intelligence leaders and our president to help usher in the transparency that the American people support by releasing the entire “torture report” now, with minimal censorship. Burr needs to lead our state and our nation to higher ground on this shameful unresolved issue.
The Rev. George Reed is executive director of the N.C. Council of Churches. Dr. Christina Cowger is coordinator of North Carolina Stop Torture Now.