Santa Fe New Mexican: Commentary: U.S. must never torture again

By:  U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich

Torture is wrong. It is un-American, and it doesn’t work.

Recognizing this, the president signed an executive order in 2009 that limited interrogations by any American personnel to the guidelines in the Army Field Manual, reinforcing our commitment to the Geneva Conventions.

This closed the book on the Bush administration’s interrogation program.

But make no mistake. These weren’t just “enhanced interrogations.” This was torture.

Releasing the Senate Intelligence Committee’s study of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program to the American people will finally provide a thorough accounting of what happened and how it happened, and ensure that it never, ever happens again.

This was a grave chapter in our history. The actions taken under this program cost our nation global credibility, and they put the lives of Americans at risk.

Some have suggested that releasing this report could put American lives at risk. But let’s be clear, it has been the use of torture that puts Americans unnecessarily in harm’s way.

There is no question that there would never be a “good time” to release this study. We all know that for months now, terrorists in the extremist group Islamic State have been kidnapping and barbarically killing innocent Americans because of what we, as a nation, stand for. The response to their threats and terrorism should not be for us to change our American values. It should be to stand firm in our values and work with our allies to root out extremism and terrorism in all its forms.

The release of this study will finally let us face what was done in the name of the American people, and allow for future generations to use these findings to learn from the mistakes made by the architects of this program. This is an objective and fact-based study. It is a fair study. And it is the only comprehensive study conducted of this program and the CIA’s treatment of its detainees in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Furthermore, it is important to know that at every turn, CIA leadership avoided congressional oversight, and even worse, misled Congress. The CIA deliberately kept the vast majority of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees in the dark on the interrogation techniques until the day the president revealed the detention and interrogation program to the world in 2006 — four years after it began.

Even then, misrepresentations to the committee about the effectiveness of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program continued, in large part because the CIA had never performed any comprehensive review of the effectiveness of the interrogation techniques or the actions of its officers.

However, we need to stop treating the issue of torture as one worthy of a discussion over its practical merits. This is about torture being immoral. Being un-American. Reducing a human being to a state of despair through systematic subjugation, pain and humiliation is unquestionably immoral. And it should never happen again with the blessing of the American government.

The information in the Intelligence Committee’s study released to the public will finally pull back the curtain on the terrible judgment that went into creating and implementing this interrogation program.

The decision to use these techniques and the defense of the program were the work of a small number of people at the CIA. This study is in no way a condemnation of the thousands of men and women at this great agency who work tirelessly every day to protect and defend our nation from very real and imminent threats using lawful and effective measures.

The public interest in this issue has centered on the personalities involved and the political battle waged in the release of this study. But those stories are reductive, and I hope they will soon pass. Because the story of what happened in the CIA’s detention and interrogation program — and how it happened — is too important, and needs to be fully understood so that future generations will not make the same mistakes our country made out of anger, fear and expediency.

When America engages in these acts with authorization from the highest levels of government, we invite others to treat our citizens the same way. This study should serve as a warning to those who would make similar choices in the future.

Let us learn from the mistakes of the past — and let us never, ever repeat these mistakes.