Torture: Moral Issue, American Issue, Jewish Issue

As many already know, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has completed a comprehensive investigation on the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques after 9/11. The committee decided by an 11 to 3 bipartisan vote to make the 500 page executive summary and conclusions of the report available to the public.

At this point in the process, the CIA is completing their redactions to the report. Redactions are a necessary piece of this process. While I hope that as little as possible is redacted, I understand specific names and locations will need to be redacted for national security reasons, as well as the safety of the agents and their families. Redactions beyond those absolutely needed for the safety of this country however hurt more than they help. This report provides a great opportunity for public debate, the foundation of our democracy. The more that is redacted the less information the public and our leaders will have to use in a thorough and meaningful public debate. Furthermore, redacting the truth of the extent and specifics of torture will leave much to the imagination, leaving the opportunity for the public to assume the worst. Instead, admitting to the human rights violations this country has committed in the past, will allow us to better safeguard against similar crimes being committed again. Rev. Ron Stief, Executive Director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture has stated that, ”Admitting the truth about the United States’past is the first step toward redemption.”

As Jews, we have debated this very sensitive topic throughout the ages.In a Resolution on The Use of Torture or Lesser Forms of Coercion to Obtain Information from Prisoners adopted by the Central Conference of American Rabbis in 2005, a variety of Jewish teachings on the subject are explored. These teachings, overall, emphasize human dignity. Maimonides, for example, cautions the Rabbinical Court that although it has the power to exert physical force in support of the Torah’s decrees, it should do so with humility and full respect for the human dignity of those upon whom it exercises discipline.

Beyond religious texts, the Israeli Supreme Court presented a model of a legal standard in this area. In the case of Public Committee Against Torture in Israel v. the Government of Israel and the General Security Services, 5100/94, the Court ruled that it is unlawful to torture the suspect, even when we know that a terrorist attack or incident is about to occur. While this was not the law in the United States, it is widely believed that the report from the Senate investigation will reveal, as many already have, that no critical intelligence was gained through torture during the CIA enhanced interrogation program.

Finally, this report will be revolutionary for oversight of the security and intelligence apparatus in the United States. As early leaks and other comments from high level officials have suggested, this report will publicize just how much the CIA mislead both the public and the Bush Administration about exactly what they were doing in the enhanced interrogations. With hopefully very little redacted this report can help lawmakers fully oversee CIA and other agencies activities so that misinformation like this is never given, especially when human rights and dignity is involved.

It is important that this report is publicized with as little taken out as possible, this will allow us to truly continue to move in the right direction away from torture sponsored by our government and away from our recent history toward a more humane future.

Josh Luger is a rising Junior at Brandeis University where he is a double major in Politics and American Studies with a minor in Legal Studies. Josh is from Minneapolis, Minnesota where he attends Temple Israel. As a Machon Kaplan participant, Josh is interning at the National Religious Campaign Against Torture

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Machon Kaplan Participant

About Machon Kaplan Participant

Machon Kaplan is the Religious Action Center's work/study internship program for undergraduate students interested in Judaism and social justice. Learn more at The views expressed in these posts do not necessarily reflect the views of the Reform Movement.

2 Responses to “Torture: Moral Issue, American Issue, Jewish Issue”

  1. Interesting post, Josh. You and I share the same major, only about 44 years apart. When I was about your age, I was a Jimmy Carter Democrat, especially in light of the fact that he too was a service Academy graduate, and I had felt betrayed by Nixon’s lies to the American people and his obstruction of justice concerning the Watergate break in. Those were impeachable offenses. Rather than put the country through an impeachment trial, Mr. Nixon resigned the Presidency of the United States. Today, we live in a different world. Our enemy is not a nation state. It is Islamic radicalism which has declared openly of its hatred for Jews and it’s desire for the extermination of the state of Israel. As these Islamist terrorists move closer and closer every day to completing their goal of creating their Islamist caliphate in the Middle East, while collecting “non-existent ” WMD from Iraq and Syria, I find it puzzling that a young Jewish man as yourself finds it important to make it a priority (admirable as it might be in some circles) to hold the US accountable for our “enhanced interrogation” techniques of those who would seek your destruction. I would think the very real potential of the destruction of Israel would be a major priority instead. I know it is for this old Gentile. Enjoy your summer!


  1. Remembering 9/11: Civil Liberties and National Security | Fresh Updates from RAC - September 11, 2014

    […] As Jews, while we remember and mourn those who we lost in the terrorist attacks thirteen years today, we cannot ignore the lines crossed and the violence committed in response to the attacks in New York and Washington and on Flight 93. While ensuring the security of the United States and its citizens is critical, it cannot come at the loss of our values and rights. We are still learning about possible violations of that distinction. […]

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