Checks and Balances Ensure Transparency on Torture

Every September 17, Constitution Day is observed to commemorate the signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787.

Inherent in the Constitution is the fundamental and inviolable system of "checks and balances" created by the Founding Fathers to prevent the concentration of power in any one branch of government, to check and restrain government, and to protect rights and liberties of citizens.

This essential framework of our American government limits official power and maintains oversight among the branches of government and the public to help ensure our government makes prudent decisions and to protect our rights and the values and institutions of our nation.

However, excessive secrecy in government undermines the constitutionally-established system of checks and balances and the transparency and accountability that system brings.

One government agency who currently is no stranger to excessive secrecy is the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Important Executive Branch decisions about interrogations and detention of prisoners in U.S. custody need to be subject to careful review by the other branches of government so they don't turn into torture, cruelty, and disappearing. Congress and the courts must have access to the information they need to be fully informed about the U.S. government's interrogation and detention policies.

Following the 9/11 terror attacks, the CIA engaged in an interrogation and detention program predicated on the illegal use of torture and cruelty.

We know the most effective safeguard against the abuse of torture and cruelty is transparency. In order to prevent such abuses in the future, we need a complete reporting of the facts, detailing how and why the CIA's policies of torture and cruelty came to be approved and used. Only when all the facts are known can we understand what went wrong and prevent such abuses from happening again.

Thanks to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, under the leadership of Senator Dianne Feinstein, the American people may soon have the facts.

The Senate Intelligence Committee dutifully and diligently fulfilled their oversight responsibilities by initiating a review of the CIA's former detention and interrogation program in 2009. As a result of this review, the Intelligence Committee produced a bipartisan report totaling more than 6,000 pages long and with 35,000 footnotes. The CIA Torture Report is the most thorough and comprehensive review of the CIA's torture program.

In a bipartisan vote, the Intelligence Committee voted to declassify the executive summary, findings, and conclusions of the CIA Torture Report. The Intelligence Committee is in the process of reviewing the redactions submitted to them by the Executive Branch.

Until the CIA Torture Report is made public, torture proponents use the secrecy that continues to surround the CIA's use of torture and cruelty to distort the facts and to rewrite history which denies their own culpability and failures in authorizing and engaging in these acts outside the law.

On Constitution Day, let us remember that our American government was designed to put checks on the power of individuals in government who might slip out of control and begin making their own rules. The use of torture and cruelty was authorized by a handful of officials who believed they were exempt from oversight or review. That was a mistake of colossal proportions whose damage will plague us for decades.

Publicly releasing the CIA Torture Report will give the public an essential opportunity to more fully understand what was perpetrated in our name and to put into place sufficient mechanisms, transparency, oversight, and checks and balances to prevent to torture and cruelty from happening again.