CIA ‘amnesty’ dismays campaigners

Published on salon.com, by Mark Benjamin, 17 April 2009.

In his statement announcing the release of the Bush administration’s torture memos Thursday, President Barack Obama ruled out prosecuting whoever was in the room during the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” sessions. “In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution,” he said.

Obama made it clear he is generally ready to move on from the whole issue. So don’t expect David Addington, former counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney and self-appointed interrogation expert, to be hauled into court anytime soon. “We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history,” Obama said. “But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past” …  

… Without a rigorous investigation into the alleged efficacy of U.S. torture, we’ll never know. A torture commission would have looked into this very issue. With Obama’s blessing, Congress could try to appoint a nonpartisan group of experts to carefully evaluate whether the torture program was an effective way to gather valuable intelligence or, as interrogators suspect, simply made desperate prisoners say whatever they had to say to make the pain stop, yielding a few gems among a flow of muck. But Obama hasn’t advocated a commission or any other vehicle to look into that, and today seems disinclined to do anything other than move on.

There are some indications that other Democrats are falling into line on ditching the commission idea, too. Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, a leading proponent of a commission, released a statement Thursday applauding the Obama administration for releasing the memos. Whitehouse didn’t mention a commission that would look into whether torture worked. He referred only to an ongoing, and mostly secret, investigation of unknown scope by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

But while Obama has turned the page, many others haven’t – including the people, and their allies, who think waterboarding was a good idea. Without a commission, if Mitt Romney (the man who pledged to double the size of the prison at Guantánamo) is president in 2013 – or 2017 – we could start torturing all over again. (full long text).

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