Reports of the brutal methods employed by CIA operatives to extract information from terror suspects in secret agency prisons surfaced last week when the Justice Department released four detailed memos describing interrogation tactics that the Obama administration has condemned as torture. President Barack Obama reiterated his position that torture has no place in his government. But he also said the C.I.A. operatives who carried out torture under the Bush administration won't be prosecuted for war crimes.
We can live with that, because at the time the C.I.A. officers involved thought they were acting under legal orders authorized by the commander-in-chief. But what about the lgovernment awyers who wrote the boilerplate that supposedly made their actions legal? Why should they get off? The Bush Justice Department apparently was full of lickspittle attorneys who were all too eager to trash U.S. and international law to give the president powers to conduct the war on terror however he saw fit. They churned out convoluted legal argument justifying every abuse the spy agency could come up with, including waterboarding, sleep deprivation, slamming prisoners against walls, dousing them in freezing water and shoe-horning them into tiny cells for days at a time. One new wrinkle that emerged Thursday described the psychological terror inflicted on one detainee with a primative fear of insects by interrogators who trapped him in a box with a bug and told him its sting, though painful, was not quite lethal. However you wrap it in the gloss of scientifically modern interrogation techniques, this stuff reeks of the kind of sadistic glee you'd expect from the butchers in a Medieval dungeon.
The C.I.A. torturers will be immune from prosecution under President Obama's edict, but why should the lawyers who enabled them by tearing up the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions go unpunished? At the very least, they were derelict in their duty as officers of the court; they should have known the barbaric methods they were enshrining with the law's majesty contravened every principle of decency and right. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is seems to be the only politician willing to call for a full-scale investigation of the matter so the American people can know exactly what crimes were committed in their name -- and who the men were who created the shameful legal fiction that torture is OK. It surely would serve them right if they were disbarred and never allowed to practice again.