Convention Against Torture

Floor Speech

By:  Tom Udall
Date: April 23, 2013
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. President, I rise to recognize an important anniversary--the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Convention Against Torture--and would like to do so in the context of the recent publication of an important report on the U.S. policies and programs put in place following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

After 9/11, Americans came together and set aside their differences. Those terrible events unified this country in a common desire to bring to justice those responsible and to do whatever was necessary to prevent future attacks.

We have spent over a decade successfully reducing al Qaida's ranks, and--until last week--doing so without another major attack on U.S. soil. Yet there have been countless mistakes and costs incurred in the pursuit of these goals.

One of these key mistakes is the program that the Central Intelligence Agency initiated after 9/11 to detain and interrogate terrorist subjects. The details of how this program came to be and how it was conducted are outlined in the Senate Intelligence Committee's 6,000-page report on the CIA's detention and interrogation program--based on a documentary review of over 6 million pages of CIA and other records and including 35,000 footnotes. In December I voted with a majority of my colleagues on the committee to report out the study and to send it to the CIA for its review and comments.

I believe that the CIA's detention and interrogation program was severely flawed. It was mismanaged. The ``enhanced interrogation techniques'' were brutal. And perhaps most importantly, the program did not work. Nonetheless, it was portrayed to the White House, the Department of Justice, the Congress, and the media as a program that resulted in unique information that ``saved lives.''

At his confirmation hearing, I urged CIA Director John Brennan to lead in correcting the false public record about the CIA's program and in instituting the necessary reforms to restore the CIA's reputation for integrity and analytical rigor. I firmly believe that the CIA cannot be its best until its leadership faces the serious and grievous mistakes of this program.

Some say that by looking backward, we are focusing on ``archaeology'' to the exclusion of our national security interests today. I would argue that acknowledging the flaws of this program is essential for the CIA's long-term institutional integrity--as well as for the legitimacy of ongoing sensitive programs. The findings of this report directly relate to how other CIA programs are managed today.

The CIA, the White House, and other agencies continue their review of the committee's report on the CIA's detention and interrogation program, and the Senate Intelligence Committee expects to see an official response soon. But this is not a report I can talk much about or share, since it remains classified.

That is why I am thankful for the release of a report by the Constitution Project's Task Force on Detainee Treatment. The task force was led by former Representative Asa Hutchison and former representative and retired Ambassador James Jones and made up of former high-ranking officials and experts from across the political spectrum. This was a 2-year effort, based on an examination of available public records as well as interviews with over 100 former detainees, military and intelligence officers, interrogators, and policymakers.

In a news article on the report, Mr. Hutchison--who served in several roles in the Bush administration, including as undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security--said that after researching this issue for nearly 2 years, ``he had no doubts about what the United States did.'' He concluded that ``it's incredibly important to have an accurate account not just of what happened but of how decisions were made.'' He added, ``The United States has a historic and unique character, and part of that character is that we do not torture.''

I couldn't agree more with his sentiments. As one of the task force's contributors, former Ambassador Thomas

Pickering, states in a Washington Post opinion piece I will ask to have printed in the Record, ``Admitting our mistakes is the only legitimate basis on which we can reassure the world that America remains committed to the rule of law and to upholding human rights and democratic values.''

I commend the report of the Constitution Project's Task Force to my colleagues. I also urge the administration to work closely with the Senate Intelligence Committee as it conducts its review of the Committee's report.

In marking the 25th anniversary of President Reagan's signing of the international Convention Against Torture, I remind my colleagues and this administration that the government has an obligation to the American people to face its mistakes transparently, help the public understand the nature of those mistakes, and correct them. Director Brennan and this administration have an important task ahead in this regard.