Pastor: If DOJ Officials Won’t Read the Torture Report, I'll Read It to Them

By Ryan Stewart 6-04-2015
Photo via National Religious Campaign Against Torture
Left to Right: Rev. Ron Stief, Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale, Colin Jager. Photo via National Religious Campaign Against Torture

Pastor Seth Kaper-Dale of the Reformed Church of Highland Park, N.J., travelled to Washington, D.C., on June 3 with a simple task: to read the torture report outside the Department of Justice.

“As a pastor, I know that admitting the truth is the first step toward redemption,” said Kaper-Dale.

“When the DOJ admitted in court that it hadn’t even opened, let alone read, the full Torture Report, I knew I had to help the department start the path toward redemption. By reading the report outside the DOJ, I hope to open the hearts of at least a few DOJ employees.”

Kaper-Dale is referring to court filings from January that indicated no one in the DOJ had actually opened their copy of the report. Since then, the DOJ still has not clarified that anyone has read the report, and has not taken action based on its findings — all this well over a year since senators voted to reveal the report in April 2014.

The report was originally released by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in early December and outlined far more brutal torture practices than the C.I.A. had ever discussed before the report. Among the most shocking elements were: people being held at gunpoint while being told that their families would be sexually abused in front of them; forced rectal feeding; forcing detainees with broken legs to stand; evidence of well-worn waterboards – the list goes on. (For an outline, see this post from The Daily Beast).

Deeply struck by such obvious injustices perpetrated by his own government, Kaper-Dale mobilized his New Jersey congregation to hold a five-hour reading of the report soon after it was released. But on his second public reading, Kaper-Dale felt a different range of emotions.

“When we got to the Department of Justice and read again the words that I’d read in the context of my sanctuary, more than sadness and despair, I could feel a sense of anger and righteous indignation,” said Kaper-Dale.

“Here I am standing in front of the place where justice is to be done and I’m reading something that they should be reading on their own.”

While Kaper-Dale had strong words for the Department of Justice, he also criticized recent and past presidential administrations.

“The problems that occurred happened under a Republican regime,” he said. “But this Democratic regime has similarly evaded peace and justice by failing to prosecute and failing to further criminal investigation. Congregations need to insist that the president of the United States hold people accountable for their criminal activity.”

In conjunction with this political advocacy, Kaper-Dale also stressed that congregations ought to “pray for forgiveness on behalf of the nation, a nation that we are a part of.”

“We need a prayer of repentance.”

Kaper-Dale spoke in partnership with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, whose stated aim is to “mobilize people of faith to end torture in U.S. policy, practice, and culture.”

You can find more information on the work of NRCAT here.

Ryan Stewart is Online Assistant at Sojourners.

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