Transparency won. The Obama administration’s decision to release a group of legal memos discussing specific interrogation techniques used against suspected terrorists was made over the objections of the intelligence community – and the new administration should be commended for standing up for its principles. The accompanying statements from the president and attorney general ruling out the prosecution of intelligence agents who relied on the legal advice contained in these memos should not be a surprise and are completely justified.
But let’s get real. Despite yesterday’s release and as much as they deserve it, the story of Bush administration officials authorising torture is not going to end with those responsible behind bars. The practical obstacles to any trial of this nature are too great, and in any event, it would be a poor choice on both policy and political grounds for the Obama administration to pursue criminal prosecutions. Yet just because the story won’t end in jail time does not mean that it has to end badly. The new administration’s hope that the memo release will allow them to "turn the page," however, makes a messy conclusion more, not less likely.
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