Letter on Torture to My Congressional Representatives

U. S. Capitol. Photo by Callen Harty.

U. S. Capitol. Photo by Callen Harty.

This letter was written and sent on Friday to my Senators, Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson, and to my Congressional Representative, Mark Pocan.


As an American citizen I am appalled by the recent release of the Senate’s report on CIA torture (or, as the Orwellian government department known as the Central Intelligence Agency likes to call it, “enhanced interrogation techniques”). It is not that it is that surprising. Everyone knew that as the White House (Bush, Cheney, and their Cabinet members), the military, and others in government were denying the use of torture techniques that we were at the same time torturing prisoners in the hope of garnering some sort of valuable information on our enemies. It was one of those open secrets where everyone knew it was happening while the government and its agents engaged in “plausible deniability” (a term coined by the CIA back in the 1960s), subterfuge, and outright lies.

I am horrified that we would treat other human beings this way, regardless of the reason for it, what kind of enemy combatants they might be, or what intelligence is gathered by it. It is, plain and simple, wrong. It is state-sponsored terrorism aimed at an individual rather than an entire populace. There is no place for it. The United States used to be a leader in the international struggle for human rights. We were among the leaders in designing agreements to eliminate torture, oppression, and war crimes worldwide. We used to have a moral leg to stand on and now we can stand on nothing. Our credibility is shattered. That is the other horrifying thing about this. Others can now simply ignore us when we talk of human dignity, when we demand human rights from countries that oppress their citizens or torture their enemies. Who are we to demand anything when we cannot abide by international agreements that we signed onto or even helped design? How can we now call for justice when others torture or kill our citizens? If we are a Christian country as so many of our leaders claim then we are destined to be the victims of “an eye for an eye” because of our own actions.

We have led war tribunals and convicted the leaders of other countries for crimes that are similar to what we have done in our “enhanced interrogation techniques”. How can we refuse to extradite George Bush and Dick Cheney, among others, when countries that have worked alongside us come to us and demand they be tried for war crimes? I don’t think we can and I don’t think we should.

As an American citizen I do not want my name associated with the behavior outlined in the Senate report on torture. My government tortured prisoners but they did not do so with the consent of me or the majority of this country’s citizens. This is not the kind of government I want. It is not the kind of government most of us want. It does not represent who we are as a people. I find it abhorrent and disavow the actions undertaken in the name of this country and its people. When we have lost our moral compass and have traveled so far from our roots because of it those in power cannot say they were acting on behalf of the American people.

Unfortunately, we also cannot change the past. The crimes have been committed. We cannot undo what has been done. But we can look toward the future. We can work to make sure it never happens again. We need to make sure that it does not. We need to make sure there are reparations of some kind to the victims or their families. We need to make sure those responsible are held accountable for their actions and serve as an example to future generations to show that we as a people will not tolerate those acting in our names committing these kinds of acts. We must work toward transparency and we must do whatever we can to ensure that the government abides by all international agreements.

I do not know what laws may be proposed to guarantee that our government will no longer engage in these kinds of actions in the future or to try to make up for what already happened. If something is proposed I strongly encourage you to sign onto it and support it through the process of becoming law. If nothing is proposed by others then I plead with you as a representative beholden to the people to draft a bill that will do so and secure support for it. If we don’t do something now then we have not only lost our way for one moment of our history, we have lost our destiny and are well on our way to our own decline and fall.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on Amazon.com (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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