From an editorial in the Los Angeles Times last Friday:
Thanks to the Obama administration and belated action by Congress, the Central Intelligence Agency is no longer in the business of torturing suspected terrorists. But the United States still hasn’t fully come to terms with what President Obama called a “dark and painful chapter in our history.”
It’s increasingly clear that such a reckoning will not come in a court of law. U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has accepted a career prosecutor’s recommendation that criminal charges not be filed in the deaths of two suspected terrorists in U.S. custody.
In the case of the two deaths, Holder explained that “the department has declined prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.” Holder’s decision is only the latest dismaying example of the inability or unwillingness of the legal system to hold accountable those who engaged in torture or provided a legal rationale for it.
That pattern may persist if there is a criminal investigation of a new report by Human Rights Watch that the U.S. during the George W. Bush administration tortured members of an Islamist group seeking to overthrow then-Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
The fact that torture allegations haven’t produced criminal charges makes it easier, in Obama’s words, to “look forward, not backward.” So does the fact that revelations about “enhanced interrogation” techniques led to changes in the way the CIA and the military interrogate terrorism suspects. Congress has passed the Detainee Treatment Act which prohibits the “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment” of detainees. Obama has ordered the CIA to abide by the provisions of the Army Field Manual, which bans waterboarding among other things.
Yet neither the inconclusiveness of criminal investigations nor changes in the law justify official amnesia about torture. After 9/11, the Bush administration resorted to tactics impossible to reconcile with the Geneva Convention and alien to American values, but a complete picture has yet to emerge. That is why it is essential that the Senate Intelligence Committee make public the results of its investigation of the CIA’s interrogation program.
It is also why Obama should support the creation of a public commission that would examine the torture policies of the Bush era with the rigor that informed the report of the 9/11 Commission. Such a national inquest could make it less likely that a future administration would succumb to pursuing security at the cost of humanity.