T’ruah condemns in the strongest possible terms today’s decision by the Trump Administration to return to Congress all government copies of the 2014 Senate report on the CIA’s use of torture after 9/11, thus assuring that the contents of the report will not see the light of day. Torture is immoral, and a deep violation of Jewish values. As we wrote when the Executive Summary of the report was released in December 2014:
As Jews, we know that teshuvah (repentance) requires acknowledging our missteps and taking concrete actions to avoid repeating our misdeeds. As a nation, we are now taking the first step of admitting that we have been guilty of degrading the tzelem elohim of those we have tortured….Torture violates the very basic human dignity of the suspects, even if they turn out to be guilty. As the Talmud teaches, “When a human being suffers, what does the tongue [halashon] say? My head is too heavy [kalini] for me, my arm is too heavy [kalini] for me. Thus God suffers over the blood of the wicked, how much more so over the blood of the righteous.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 6:5) Jewish law forbids the mistreatment of prisoners whose guilt has not been established, such as suspects in an interrogation. The assertion that every human being is created in the image of God applies to all people, friend or enemy…
Defense officials warn that the report’s release may endanger American troops or diplomatic missions abroad. We, too, are concerned for the safety of these courageous men and women, who are putting their lives on the line as a result of policies that they did not create. But it was the CIA’s torture program, and not the release of the truth about it, that contributed to endangering American lives and America’s good standing in the world.
In a classical midrash (Genesis Rabbah 8:5), the rabbis imagine a debate in heaven about whether humanity should be created. The angels Love and Justice argue in favor of creating humanity, for humanity will do great acts of love and justice. The angels Truth and Peace argue against, for humanity will be prone to lies and war. God breaks the deadlock by throwing Truth to earth—to the human realm. The CIA’s torture program shows that Truth and Peace were not wrong about us.
Today, we have retreated from our first tentative steps towards Truth. Transparency–even when it forces us to face uncomfortable facts about our nation’s behaviour–is the hallmark of human rights. The United States needs greater accountability for torture, not secrecy and obfuscation. We urge our government to rethink today’s decision and ensure that truth will not remain forever hidden from the light of day.