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A Citizen's Demand of His Government: Release the ICRC Torture Report

JURIST Guest Columnist Benjamin Davis of the University of Toledo College of Law says that the International Committee of the Red Cross report on US interrogations of prisoners held at secret so-called CIA "black sites" should be released to the American public...

In a just-published article in the New Yorker magazine entitled "The Black Sites: A Rare Look Inside the CIA's Secret Interrogation Program," Jane Mayer documents what only those in hopeless denial can avoid knowing: the United States has tortured people in the so-called CIA "black sites". In the course of describing the horrendous violations of international and domestic law that have been committed, the author also mentions that the International Committee of the Red Cross has submitted to the United States a report on its investigation of the CIA black sites and the interrogation techniques used there. It appears from comments in the article by those who have been permitted to see the report that it is a devastating critique that calls those techniques tantamount to torture.

I don't know about other Americans, but for the past five years I have heard members of the Executive and Legislative of both parties, academics, and lawyers in private practice defend various interrogation programs by saying that they are "enhanced interrogation techniques" or that "we do not condone torture" or that "this has been vetted by the lawyers" or "there were only a few bad apples at low levels involved at Abu Ghraib" or "this is humane treatment consistent with military necessity" and on and on. I have heard presidential candidates almost to a man (and woman) say that they support the "enhanced interrogation techniques."

I hereby urge all people of good will to DEMAND of the Executive and the Legislative that one of them release to the American people the full unexpurgated unredacted un-whatevered version of the ICRC report on the CIA black sites. I further urge that the earlier reports on U.S. detention also be released.

The ICRC cannot release these reports. The ICRC's vital role is to trade access to prisoners in exchange for confidentiality. Its role is crucial in protecting human dignity in the worst of times when armed conflict is initiated. Its power to shed light to change behavior is demonstrated most recently in the fact that the President's recent Executive Order of July 20, 2007 fears the ICRC by not enshrining its access to detainees. Absence of ICRC access in the Executive Order was a most damning oversight that haunts me.

As we foresaw at the American Society of International Law annual meeting last March there are people who have seen the ICRC report within a country (in this case the United States) who might wish information to come out about that report because they find the information so disturbing, so inconsistent with the public statements of our high-level civilians and generals over the past years, and so inconsistent with American values and our international and domestic legal obligations. Rather than those noble Americans running the risk of being prosecuted for taking such a heroic step, I urge that our government simply release the report. The report should be released so that we can see the distance between what our government has said to us and what it has done under the shadow of secrecy in our name. We elected them, they owe it to us. Git 'er done.

Some will say that release of the report will help our enemies by telling them what we do. The problem is that what we do is - from the reports we have heard - against the law. The people to whom this conduct has been done know what happened to them. Those who are released, as pointed out in Jane Mayer's article, are consistent in how they describe what happened to them. And no matter what gag order - a la David Hicks - is imposed, people will talk about what happened to them. Interrogators are talking about what they have done - to friends and no doubt in confession. People are buying insurance and have to reveal to the insurance company to some extent the types of risks that they are seeking to cover. In US courts, allegations of horrendous treatment have been made in suits by former detainees that one can pick up on the Internet. And, of course, those who are involved or who are providing Congressional oversight know what is happening. The only people in the dark in this shell game are the detainees held at such sites and the American people. Bring the light.

Some will say that information about collaboration of leaders of other democratic states in these black sites will ruin our international relations. I say let the people of those democratic states read the truth of what their leaders have done in their names and hold them in judgment too.

Let us denounce Orwellian euphemism and call a spade a spade. Let those presidential candidates that go for easy almost lynchmob applause "waving the bloody flag" of "toughness" on the campaign trail be made to confront the fact that what they are saying means that their party stands for torture.

Is that what the Republicans stand for? Is that what the Democrats stand for? Is that what I am getting if I cast my vote for this candidate or that candidate?

And let us with that knowledge go after those U.S. high-level civilians and generals and criminally prosecute them in U.S. domestic courts for what they have done that besmirches the good name of the United States. If we learn nothing from the expiatory language in the "Family Jewels" release it is how much fear there was of criminal prosecution in those craven high-level civilians (who did all those awful things at the behest of this or that President) if the true story came out. Let us make that fear palpable for those who do not come clean with the American people today.

Release the ICRC report.

We look back to our greatest generation and we can see that they did not seek to operate like we are operating now. They sought to protect human dignity not destroy it. Justice Stevens, the sole exemplar of that time still on the court, wrote as much in his Hamdan opinion.

I can handle the truth. The American people can handle the truth. The question is whether our leaders can handle the truth and level with Americans on the torture they have done in our names. Let's make them, by demanding that we be let in on the unvarnished truth. For truth, in the words of the old spiritual, will set us free. It will help us see the background for the "policy laundering" through the G8 that is being done to try to reduce all of our liberty in America and Europe, and by extension the world. We should never fear the truth. Like an updated Diogenes of Synope - with a lamp I seek a leader of courage who will tell us the truth and officially release this report to Americans now. We deserve it, as do all those who have sacrificed for America. Stop the games.

Benjamin Davis is a professor at the University of Toledo College of Law

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.

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