A History of Violence: Why the Senate Report on CIA Torture Shouldn’t Surprise Humanists

On December 9 the United States Senate Intelligence Committee released an alarming report detailing the horrendous torture practices that the CIA used to interrogate individuals suspected of terrorism. TheHumanist.com’s Clay Farris Naff has already discussed the egregious and immoral nature of these appalling actions carried out by CIA operatives. What makes the truth revealed in this report even more terrifying, however, is viewing it within the larger history of torture practices in the United States.

Though the U.S. has long been a vocal proponent of human rights, it also has a history of carrying out inhumane practices against its opponents. As far back as 1898, during the Spanish-American War, the U.S. used the facetiously named “water cure” to torture Filipino insurgents. Even when U.S. forces haven’t actually engaged in torture practices themselves, they’ve taught them to the troops of unscrupulous regimes such as Jorge Videla’s Argentina and the Shah’s Iran. CIA training manuals from the past fifty years have included methods of extracting information from prisoners using both physical and psychological torture. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report is horrific, but it represents only one instance in a long record of brutal acts inflicted upon human beings.

While much of the media attention surrounding the Senate report has focused on the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used during the Bush administration, there are many others who have watched and condemned our country’s abuse of prisoners for decades. The humanist movement, in particular, has a strong track record of raising awareness of torture and calling for the United States to cease imposing cruel and unusual punishments upon our foes. In 2009, after President Obama released CIA memos detailing torture techniques used by the Bush administration post-9/11, the Humanist published several articles that unequivocally condemned the practice. Since its founding, the American Humanist Association’s leadership has passed numerous resolutions in support of global human rights, calling for an end to torture practices. The AHA has also unwaveringly supported the United Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights, which states, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The philosophy of humanism, with its conviction that all human lives have worth and deserve dignity, stands in stark contrast to the dehumanization necessary to expose a person to such extreme pain and suffering.

When the CIA’s torture practices detailed in the Senate report are viewed as just one more instance of the United States inflicting cruel and unusual punishment upon individuals, anyone who supports human rights and dignity should be compelled to speak out. With the CIA engaging in acts of torture for decades, a loud and insistent outcry against such ruthlessness from American citizens is necessary to stop these human rights violations. These acts are just part of the larger history of violence that the CIA has been participating in. Let’s make sure that this history does not also become our future.

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