Sen. Richard Burr, stop burying the CIA detention and torture report (COMMENTARY)

(RNS) Sen. Richard Burr must stop trying to cover up what has happened and let us get on with the reckoning.

U.S. Senator Richard Burr, official portrait courtesy of Sen. Richard Burr's office
Richard Burr

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina. Official portrait courtesy of Sen. Richard Burr’s office.

(RNS) “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived,” wrote Maya Angelou, “but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” We call on U.S. Sen. Richard Burr to stop trying to unlive our nation’s ugly torture program, and face it with courage.

In 2013, we joined over 180 other people of faith from North Carolina in writing to Burr, urging him to release the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,700-page report on CIA detention and torture.

Thankfully, Burr did vote in April 2014 to release the executive summary of the report. Along with the rest of the world, we have been horrified at the revelations contained even in that 500-page summary.

So now we find it strange and embarrassing that in one of his first acts as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Burr has called for all agencies in the executive branch that have copies of the full report to give them back. This is a very odd request, and one that North Carolinians of all political persuasions should protest.

Burr is literally attempting to bury the full story of what was done in our names. The CIA held captives in secret for years and subjected them to cruel, vengeful tortures that many of us had never heard of before. Our stomachs turned as we read of rectal “feeding,” half-naked and tortured detainees dying of hypothermia, and brutal repeated beatings.

The Senate torture report was approved by the 112th Congress. The vote to release it took place in the 113th Congress. So at the dawn of the 114th Congress, Burr wants to reach back two Congresses and undo the official account of the misdeeds of the very agency he now oversees? It beggars belief.

This genie cannot be put back in the bottle. The central finding of the report: Torture did not work, it was deeply cruel, and it has not made us safer. Our nation and our state must face history with courage, as our own Maya Angelou suggests.

For starters, we need the full report released, along with the CIA’s own negative internal assessment of its torture program, the so-called Panetta Review. Moreover, Burr must seek a complete accounting of all detainees who were rendered and tortured, not just those in official CIA “black sites.”

A number of captives were secretly held in or brought to other countries by the CIA, and there the torture sessions were handled in short-term facilities or by allied security forces. These crimes at the behest of or by the CIA in Morocco, Thailand, Egypt or Syria do not “count” in the tally of 119 detainees acknowledged by the CIA. But our tax dollars are no less responsible for these victims’ ongoing nightmares. Sadly, they have not received even the bit of recognition afforded by the torture report summary. All the survivors deserve acknowledgment, apology and restitution.

Burr must stop trying to cover up what has happened and let us get on with the reckoning. While some Americans say torture is sometimes or often justified, can anyone condone torturing those wrongfully detained?

As people of faith, we can never justify or accept torture of any of our fellow human beings — whether innocent or guilty. By acquiescing in this, we have violated all that we hold sacred. Will we now intentionally and knowingly hide our offenses and continue desecrating our fellow human beings?

As people of faith, we call on Burr, himself the son of a Presbyterian minister and now a member of the United Methodist Church, to honor the golden rule common to all faiths: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” As people of faith, we beseech Burr to assert himself as a leader in moral guidance and action. As people of faith, we call upon Burr to reject torture, and not embrace it. As people of faith, we beg the forgiveness of those we have already violated.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. told us, “Where evil men (and women) would seek to perpetuate an unjust status quo, good men (and women) must seek to bring into being a real order of justice.” Senator Burr, face history with courage, and lead us in seeking justice.

(The Rev. Douglas S. Long and Sandy Irving  are members of the the North Carolina Council of Churches’ peace committee.)


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