Should We be Rewarding Torture?

Tomorrow, Wednesday, May 9, the Senate Intelligence Committee will take up Mr. Trump's nomination of Gina Haspel to head the CIA. 

Her qualifications for this job include having supervised a secret CIA site in Thailand at which prisoners were tortured, and having been responsible for arranging the illegal destruction of videotapes that showed actual torture interrogations.  The videotapes were destroyed to prevent Congressional and public review of how the CIA was actually behaving.

It is not surprising that Mr. Trump decided to reward her and make clear his support for torture by appointing her.

 I urge you to join with me in calling both your Senators to oppose her confirmation (or if you live in Washington DC and are not allowed to elect a Senator, calling the majority and minority leaders -- Senators McConnell and Schumer).   You can call 202-224-3121, explain what state you live in, and be plugged in to your Senators.

 The Shalom Center and I have a special concern to prevent the use of torture from again becoming part of US policy.

 In May 2004, reporter-extraordinary Seymour Hersh broke the story of the use of torture as an instrument of US policy, in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. (One generation earlier, he broke the story of the US Army’s massacre of Vietnamese civilians in the village of My Lai.)  

Soon after, The Shalom Center honored Hersh as a Prophetic Voice in our generation.

At the time, I was a member of the Board of Rabbis for Human Rights / North America (now Truah). RHR/ NA was two years old, and had till then addressed only human rights in Israel and Palestine. In the wake of the Abu Ghraib revelations, several of us urged that RHR/ NA take up issues of human rights in the US and in US policy. We persuaded the organization to take up the issue of torture.

And both The Shalom Center and RHR supported the creation of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

That work, as well as the efforts of more secular lawyers and citizens,  made it possible to elect in 2008 a President who reversed the permissions to use torture that had surfaced during the US War against Iraq. He did not, however, follow up by pursuing criminal charges against or even simply firing all those who permitted, encouraged, justified, and carried out torture – on essentially the grounds that bygones were bygones.

But bygones are never bygones if no bulwarks are erected against their return. And – here we are.

The quintessential Jewish argument against torture is that we are all created in the Image of God – and so God’s Own Self is twisted and shattered when someone is tortured. I would add that on every Yom Kippur,  we read the story of the torture and “execution” (read murder) of ten great Rabbis by the Roman Empire.

I hear this story as a warning: Empires torture. It is essential to their evolution.

 If you want to stop your own government’s use of torture once and for all, end its Imperial adventures. Make sure it does not go to war against Iran.(If Mr. Trump today cances the nuclear agreement  with Iran, the likelihood of war goes up fify-fold.) Make sre it stops the near-gemocidal Saudi war against Yemen, carried on with US support and partcipation. In the meantime, stop rewarding torturers.

 Please remember and act:  Call 202-224-3121, explain what state you live in, and ask to be plugged in to your two Senators. Then tell them: No reward for torturers. No Haspel in the CIA.




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