When I was a child, my parents made me and my brother say grace before meals. My mother is a preacher in the United Methodist Church, and my faith is part of my daily life. We often thanked God for our country. We expressed gratitude for our government leaders who valued freedom and for Founding Fathers who ascribed the rights of life and liberty to all.
As I grew up, everything changed. When I was in fifth grade, in early 2004, reports emerged that President George W. Bush had authorized waterboarding at Guantanamo Bay. That spring, we learned that our country brutally tortured people at Abu Ghraib and at so-called black sites. Year after year, I read more reports of torture, indefinite detention and unfair trials — all in the name of my security.
At the time, I found these reports hard to understand, and impossible to accept. I was told we had to fight the war against terrorists. But my fifth-grade self thought the war was in Iraq and Afghanistan, so why were we torturing people in Cuba? Most of all, I asked, why are we torturing anyone?
I thought about the rights we had given thanks for before dinner each night. When I reached middle school, I realized an obvious truth. When we stripped these men of their dignity, we were not ascribing the rights of life and liberty to "all men."
Now I am in college. I worry about what my children will accept as a status quo. I want them to grow up in an America that respects, protects and fulfills the human rights of all people. I believe that torture is a terrible sin and must never be allowed.
President Barack Obama and Congress should do more to make sure America never uses torture. The first step is to release the Senate Select Intelligence Committee's report on the CIA's use of torture. The report was commissioned in 2009 and completed in December. Publishing the facts will help convince Americans that torture was a terrible mistake.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the committee, has said, "I also believe this report will settle the debate once and for all over whether our nation should ever employ coercive interrogation techniques." CIA Director John Brennan said the report changed his opinion of torture. Yet President Obama and the CIA are dragging their feet on reviewing it and now the question is whether it will be publicly released.
The president said he wants to "look forward, not back" when it comes to torture. Until we confront what happened, we risk torture being committed now and in the future.
President Obama has taken important steps such as signing an executive order that reaffirmed the ban on "enhanced interrogation techniques" authorized under President Bush and set the Army Field Manual as the standard for all U.S. interrogations. But the manual permits prolonged isolation, sleep deprivation, stress positions and the use of drugs that could amount to torture or other ill treatment. Further, the safeguards against a future president overturning the order and deciding that torture is necessary for national security are insufficient.
It's troubling that former Vice President Dick Cheney, some former members of the CIA and a number of pundits maintain that "enhanced interrogation techniques" were necessary for finding Osama bin Laden and that we should bring them back. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and others say the techniques were unnecessary and set America back. Releasing the report can settle that debate.
The real issue is not whether torture was effective. The real issue is that torture is morally wrong, illegal and never justified. That is why President Ronald Reagan urged the Senate to ratify the Convention Against Torture and why President Obama and the Intelligence Committee must make the torture report public.
I do not want my children growing up in an America that tortures prisoners. I want my children to grow up in an America that leads the world in ending torture.
Alexander Emmons, 20, of Fairfax, Va., is a sophomore majoring in political science and economics at Yale University and an activist with Amnesty International USA.
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