Documentary on U.S. torture seeks to begin process of truth-telling
Since the close of the Bush administration, there has been little official attention paid to the policy during those years of using torture on accused terrorists in order to extract administration. As a result, the American Civil Liberties Union and the writers’ and human rights group PEN have conducted their own study of 150,000 declassified documents and other materials and have now published The Torture Report: What the Documents Say About America’s Post-9/11 Torture Program.
Larry Siems of PEN, a lead writer of the report, appeared Friday on the PBS program Moyers & Company along with Doug Liman, director of The Bourne Identity and Fair Game. Liman is currently putting together a documentary, Reckoning with Torture, based on readings of excerpts from those documents that have been staged by the ACLU and PEN.
Siems began by explaining that the ACLU had been looking for a way of making the public more aware of the documents it had obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, and that was where the idea for public readings began.
“You can’t believe some of these documents that they’ve uncovered,” Liman added. “And, you know, in a way it’s a tribute to this country that the Freedom of Information Act actually works, that you don’t actually need WikiLeaks. … You begin to recover just glimpses of humanity, because you hear the voices of detainees. We’ve never heard them. The whole system has been structured so you never hear them tell their stories.”
Siems emphasized that the documents also demonstrate that not everybody responded to the fear that followed 9/11 by endorsing torture. “I think one of the clearest stories that the documents tell,” he stated, “is that many, many people who are in positions of high responsibility had felt exactly the same pressure and had exactly the opposite reaction that John Yoo, and Dick Cheney, and George Bush had. There were a stream of legal memos that were written by the lawyers of every single service that challenged John Yoo’s memo. They fought, and fought, and fought.”
“And interestingly, when you talk about the damage of torture, you know, we’re not only talking about damage to the people who have been tortured,” he continued. “But you’re talking about the damage that we have done to our servicemen and women, who we’ve put in a position that, you know, required them to violate their training, to violate their consciences. And there’s the damage that’s happened to the careers of many of the dissenters, people who stood up, felt they had to resign, were blackballed within the services, have had to leave the services. And we leave them carrying the burden of conscience.”
“The world knows that when you have periods of human right violations, a process has to happen of publicly encountering and reckoning with what happened,” Siems concluded. “It doesn’t necessarily involve prosecutions, but it involves truth telling. Why? Because the victims need to be recognized as human beings. They need to have their experience acknowledged publicly. And that’s a crucial, crucial process. And we haven’t done that.”
A full transcript of this program is available here.
This video is from Moyers & Company, May 25, 2012.