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Originally published June 5, 2014 at 4:21 PM | Page modified June 6, 2014 at 5:10 PM

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Tell the truth about U.S. torture

Religious and civic organizations are helping lead the campaign to declassify a Senate report on CIA torture practices and results, writes columnist Lance Dickie.

Times editorial columnist


Americans would be shocked and deeply disturbed if they knew of the horrors done in their name, which is the reason an investigation of CIA torture is buried out of sight.

The Obama administration so far is fending off efforts to force the release of a 400-page summary of a 6,000-page study by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

A key player working to educate U.S. citizens about post-9/11 CIA rendition, detention and interrogation programs was in Seattle Tuesday night, the guest of the Washington State Religious Campaign Against Torture.

Former Brig. Gen. David R. Irvine was a featured speaker on a panel at University Temple United Methodist Church. Irvine, now a lawyer in Salt Lake City, taught prisoner interrogation and military law for 18 years. He was also a Republican state legislator.

He is a member of The Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment, and he is one of 30 retired generals and admirals who signed a letter to President Obama asking him to declassify the Senate report.

They want the public to see the U.S. Senate study, “which calls into question the morality, legality and effectiveness of the CIA program,” according to the May 1 letter.

All of the abuses of Abu Ghraib in Iraq were compounded at Guantánamo. Americans have been subjected to all sorts of word games, where prisoners become detainees, and brutal torture is called enhanced interrogation.

Prisoners have rights, and if they were presented for trial, the nature of their capture, treatment and intelligence value would be subject to scrutiny. And torture is flat illegal — a violation of U.S. law, American values and international agreements.

All of us oblivious folks on the sidelines are easily put off by the dismissive eye rolls of those whose only argument can be summed up as, “if you only knew what I know.”

The argument holds no water with senior military leaders, former diplomats, academics, legal experts and civic leaders who have studied the public record and concluded torture does not work, has not produced any credible results and is most likely counterproductive.

Nor does the CIA want to engage the argument, and make its point with classified data, because it cannot. That is why the Senate panel wants to get those hidden details into the bright sunlight.

The bipartisan Constitution Project task force produced a report on detainee treatment. The 11-member panel was co-chaired by Asa Hutchinson, a former Republican congressman from Arkansas, who served as an undersecretary of Homeland Security for President George W. Bush, and James R. Jones, former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, and past Democratic member of Congress from Oklahoma.

The 2013 report on detainee treatment spanned the Clinton, Bush and Obama presidencies. Twenty-three of 24 findings and recommendations were unanimous.

In all of the findings about the use of torture, and the roles and responsibilities of senior U.S. officials, one conclusion stands out:

“There is no firm or persuasive evidence that the widespread use of harsh interrogation techniques by U.S. forces produced significant information of value.”

A recurrent talking point for defenders of, um, enhanced interrogation is how an attack on a Los Angeles office tower was foiled. None of it — details or timelines — holds up to scrutiny by people who know what questions to ask.

The elemental lesson offered by Tuesday’s program is that Americans are clueless about the assault on U.S. laws and values by intelligence operatives with both willful and manipulated endorsements from the highest levels of government.

Second, the most pointed questions are being raised by those with résumés and records of public service that fuel their credibility, professional skepticism and outrage.

As Irvine makes clear, we the people need to know the awful things done in our name. Declassify and release the Senate report.

Lance Dickie's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His email address is

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