On the day that the Obama Administration released for memos from the Department of Justice that justified torture and read like something out of the Nazi archives, the President also announced that no CIA employee will be prosecuted for such crimes as waterboarding, repeatedly dousing prisoners with cold water, depriving detainees of sleep for up to eleven days, or other brutal and degrading acts.
Why no prosecutions? Because the interrogators were following interpretations of the law that were binding on them.
I thought we settled this issue at Nuremburg: it is no defense to say that you followed a lawful order.
And none of the Justice Department memos required the interrogators to torture; they merely offered a fig leaf for practices that the Agency voluntarily carried out.
The President was closer to the mark--although still wrong--when he said, “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.”
This was a political decision, taken to avoid prolonging the deep divide between those who believe that what the United States does is, per se, right and those who believe that if we aspire to lead the world, we Americans must show that we really are better than our adversaries.
The Bush Administration subverted the Constitution and traduced our legal traditions. Expiation for the nation's sins is not necessary just to cleanse our consciences, but to help us regain our moral ascendancy over those who have declared themselves our mortal enemies. This, in abjuring prosecution for crimes against humanity, Mr. Obama is not merely wrong morally, he is making a serious political mistake as well. The President should have listened to Dean Acheson.