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My View: Soul of our nation is at stake

By Patty Willis

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 16 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

The shock of Sept. 11 incited fear that the American people had not experienced since the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which tragically led to a mass exclusion program of between 110,000 and 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, of whom about two-thirds were U.S. citizens. Sixty-nine years later, acting out of fear, we have sequestered and humiliated fellow Americans in heinous acts of torture that remain veiled from the public to this day.

Chris Pedota, AP

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The seventh principle of my denomination, Unitarian Universalism, bids us respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are all a part. When violence tears at that web, we can feel the tremors across the country and around the world.

The shock of Sept. 11 incited fear that the American people had not experienced since the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which tragically led to a mass exclusion program of between 110,000 and 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, of whom about two-thirds were U.S. citizens. Sixty-nine years later, acting out of fear, we have sequestered and humiliated fellow Americans in heinous acts of torture that remain veiled from the public to this day. This April, an 11-member bipartisan task force commissioned by the Constitution Project issued a 500-page report on the treatment of 9/11 detainees in custody at the Guantanamo Bay detention center. The report found that “the arguments that the nation did not engage in torture and that much of what occurred should be defined as something less than torture are not credible.”

One of the task force’s key recommendations was that the American people should have all of the facts on torture, and in particular, that a Senate Intelligence Committee report on Central Intelligence Agency interrogations should be released to the public in the interests of transparency and accountability.

Since the first reports of torture, such as waterboarding and the photographs of Abu Ghraib, the opinions of the American public have shifted. We are becoming more accepting of torture as a viable means to an end. A 2012 national poll showed that 41 percent of Americans approved of torture, a 14-point gain since a similar poll in 2007. In a 2005 national news poll, 16 percent said that waterboarding was right and 82 percent thought it was wrong.

The horror of seeing our country perpetrate torture is wearing off. In this shift, I see the urgency of releasing the Senate’s report. The report should be released because it is part of the larger picture of the direction we are going as a country — out of sight, behind closed doors, on foreign soil and in front of our televisions, as we have ridden the waves of fear since 9/11. We can only transform as a nation by awakening to our actions. I dream that we may clearly see the harm we evoked through fear, that we stand at the places of massacre and torture and learn the lessons of our past. Within these lessons lie hope for the soul of this nation.

I urge you to call on the Senate Intelligence Committee to have the courage to release its report immediately. As the National Religious Campaign Against Torture Statement of Conscience rightfully says: “Nothing less is at stake in the torture abuse crisis than the soul of our nation. What does it signify if torture is condemned in word but allowed in deed? Let America abolish torture now — without exceptions.”

The Rev. Patty Willis is minister of South Valley Unitarian Universalist Society in Salt Lake City and a graduate of the Quaker seminary, Earlham School of Religion, in Richmond, Ind.

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