Advocates for investigation make the following points:
Failure to investigate leaves the impression that the Obama administration is trying to cover up something.
The U.S. citizenry needs a full accounting, especially as it relates to the health professionals. Released Justice Department memos contain numerous references to CIA medical personnel participating in coercive interrogation sessions. Were they the designers, the legitimizers, and the implementers—or something else? Their participation is possibly one of the biggest medical ethics scandals in U.S. history.
The argument that CIA officials thought they were doing their duty because of legal cover provided by the Department of Justice will not stand. Many times courageous individuals objected and walked away from policies that led to abuse and torture. As one FBI assistant director told one special agent who had objected to the enhanced techniques, “We don’t do that.” That agent was then pulled out of the interrogation by the FBI director Robert Mueller. At the Department of Defense, the Army Field Manual for Human Intelligence Collector Operations explicitly prohibits torture or cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment in specific terms (no waterboarding, for example).
Some legal scholars think it would be hard not to do something. No criminal charges have ever been brought against any CIA officer involved in the torture program despite the fact that (as noted earlier) three prisoners interrogated by agency personnel died as the result of this treatment. Yet the only Americans who had been prosecuted and sentenced to imprisonment were 10 low-ranking servicepersons—those who took and appeared in the Abu Ghraib photographs.
Former Vice President Cheney has said the United States must torture, because it’s effective. That is, at best, an illogical argument: A crime is not a crime just because it works. After all, terrorism can be quite effective. The argument is not only illogical but also fallacious. According to interrogation experts in the FBI and the U.S. Army, people will say anything to stop their torture.
The fact that the independent commission would be politically distracting isn’t a good argument for resisting it. Jeffrey Rosen writes: “The Bush torture policies are the most serious violation of American values since World War II internment of Japanese-Americans. A closed Senate intelligence committee investigation would be inconsistent with the transparency Obama demanded when he release the memos in the first place. At this point, only a full truth commission-style investigation can allow the Bush lawyers to make clear that they didn’t conspire to break the law, while focusing public opprobrium on the real architects and abettors of torture policies: namely, the policymakers …. An independent commission would indeed be politically embarrassing… but at least it would provide the accountability that the nation deserves.”