'The Report' is a real step toward truth and reconciliation on torture

Adam Driver in “The Report.” Photo courtesy of Amazon

(RNS) — Dec. 9th, 2014, was an important day for the New Jersey congregation where I am co-pastor. The Senate Intelligence Committee released the redacted summary of its so-called Torture Report to the public. It was, frankly, an answer to our prayer. We wanted to know our nation’s sins regarding post-9/11 torture so that we might seek reconciliation and newness of life.

Another prayer is answered today, this time by an unlikely source: Hollywood. We’ve prayed for Americans to be more aware of these sins, and today’s release of “The Report” brings us hope. The film, which stars Adam Driver as a Senate Intelligence Committee staffer, is the prophetic voice we’ve been praying for since 2004.

That year, our church, like people of faith across the country, was horrified by the photo of a hooded prisoner, hooked up to electric wires, standing on a small wooden block at Abu Ghraib. We were maybe even more horrified by what looked like the celebratory posture of the U.S. military soldier-torturers present at the scene. What had happened to us?

An image of a prisoner, Ali Shallal al-Qaisi, being tortured at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2003-2004. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons


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For a decade we prayed and lobbied our senators, asking that the report would be released to the American public, that we might communally learn our sins, confess our sins and move in a direction of healing, wholeness and hope.

Soon after the report was published, our congregation held a five-hour-long public reading of the redacted summary, reading 200 pages one evening with 80 people present. We lit candles for the abused, recognizing that their humanity had been denied.

We also found ourselves, over the course of the public reading, really concerned, too, with the dehumanization of the abusers. Their actions, their repeated actions of abusing others, were interrupting their humanity too.

Months later, when we learned that President Barack Obama’s attorney general, Loretta Lynch, had not read the torture report, two of our church members went to Washington, D.C., to stand outside the Justice Department to read portions of it at the top of their lungs. Our voices were heard by a handful of people.

The redacted torture report was available, the evidence for confession was before our country, but few were listening.

As people of faith, we recognize that all people are made in the image of God. To torture a person is to torture one made in God’s image. To be a torturer is also to gravely undermine what it means to be made in God’s image. 

What we’ve needed, since 2014, is a prophet like the prophets of old, who bring the clarifying voice of God’s justice to bear on the brokenness of now. We need someone to declare, like the Prophet Amos, “that justice roll down like water and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”

"The Report" brings Amos’ call for justice to the big screen. The film allows the Torture Report to speak directly to the American public. It gives us all the grim opportunity to look on the behavior of those who have acted shamefully on our behalf, in the name of national security. It will give the American public a chance to see the lengths our government has gone to to cover up its abusive behavior. It will tell a story of hope and truth as we watch whistleblowers and fearless public servants stand up against secret and immoral behaviors of our government.

“If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us,” the Bible teaches us in the First Letter of John. “But if we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

May “The Report,” like the Scriptures themselves, collectively help us to confess our sins of torture and move in the direction of honesty, gentleness and peace.

(The Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale is co-pastor of the Reformed Church of Highland Park, New Jersey, and president of the board of directors of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)