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The U.S. Senate Torture Report as a Truth Commission
an article by Roger Alford, The Huffington Post

It so happens that I have been researching the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission at the same time that the Senate has published an alarming report of abuse and torture committed by Americans in the name of national security. Without equating South African apartheid with the Bush administration's policies and practices, I thought that a few insights from the South African TRC are worth highlighting.



click on photo to enlarge

First, the Senate Report is a transition point for the United States. Following early revelations of torture, we have had a decade of obfuscation, but now we are moving in the direction of truth-telling. Whatever one thinks of it, the Senate's actions represent a type of truth commission. Flawed and partisan, but nonetheless a truth commission. Of course, the South African TRC was not simply a truth commission, but also a commission committed to reconciliation and prosecution of key perpetrators. The next step for the United States will be to consider whether and how we approach the next stage in this sad saga, which will involve questions of reconciliation and responsibility.

Second, while the Senate Report has focused on the question of efficacy, we should first and foremost recognize that information released yesterday underscores the moral failure of those who committed unspeakable acts of torture. It will take some time, but we must come to accept that the acts committed in the name of protecting our nation have weakened it. Our standing in the world has been irretrievably diminished. A poem by Desmond Tutu, head of the South African TRC, which he read during the opening session of the TRC in 1996, bears repeating:

The world is wept.
Blood and pain seep into our listening; into our wounded souls.
The sound of your sobbing is my own weeping;
Your wet handkerchief my pillow for a past so exhausted it cannot rest--not yet.
Speak, weep, look, listen, for us all.
Oh, people of the silent hidden past,
let your stories scatter seeds into our lonely frightened winds.
Sow more, until the stillness of this land can soften, can dare to hope and smile and sing;
Until the ghosts can dance unshackled, until our lives can know your sorrows and be healed.


Third, regardless of whether there are prosecutions, at some point those responsible for the policies that led to torture will be invited to apologize. If the South African TRC is any guide, they will refuse. During the South African TRC, in the kindest way possible Desmond Tutu invited former Prime Minister P.W. Botha to apologize. Tutu said to Botha:

"I speak on behalf of people who have suffered grievously as a result of policies that we carried out by governments, including the government that he headed. I want to appeal to him. I want to appeal to him to take a chance ... to say that he may not himself even have intended the suffering. . . .

(This article is continued in the discussionboard)

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Truth Commissions , Do they improve human rights?

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The following is excerpted from an article by Ernesto Semán, professor at the University of Richmond in the U.S.   He looks at the recent torture report to the U.S. Senate in the light of the history of U.S. implication in the torture that took place in previous decades in Latin America.  As he points out, the torture is only the most recent expression of American policies that amount to a form of state terrorism.

. . . instead of accepting the significance of the war on terror in undermining the rule of law, the report has served the Obama administration as another component of an ideological spinning wheel. . ...more.


This report was posted on December 20, 2014.