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So We Don't Torture (Anymore). But Do We Prosecute?

Last Thursday, Obama released memos from the Office of Legal Counsel that detailed the "enhanced interrogation techniques" used on some detainees...


Last Thursday, Obama released memos from the Office of Legal Counsel that detailed the "enhanced interrogation techniques" used on some detainees by the CIA. Among them: waterboarding, forced nudity, slapping and "walling," sleep deprivation, and other really unpleasant things that fall short of causing permanant organ damage. You can see the memos themselves here. It's pretty embarrassing for America.At the time, Obama condemmed these techniques as torture, but said he would protect any government operatives who authorized them or used them from prosecution. But wait, how does that work? Obama's part of the executive branch, not the judicial one-and he didn't pardon the torturers. If they're guilty of a crime, they're guilty of a crime, right?Phil Zelikow made this point in a post at Foreign Policy yesterday:"So has anyone beside me found it troubling that President Obama is making announcements on who should be prosecuted for possible crimes? Whatever one's view of the matter, didn't the administration ardently announce its dedication to depoliticizing the Department of Justice? So why is it proper for the president to tell Attorney General Eric Holder what he should conclude?"And now Obama has said that it is, in fact, Eric Holder's call whether to prosecute torturers. From the Boston Globe:"President Obama today opened the door, at least a crack, to prosecuting Bush administration officials who drafted memos that authorized what critics call torture against terrorism suspects. 'It's more of a decision for the attorney general,' he said. 'I don't want to prejudge that.'"Prosecuting the legal contortionists who wrote memos that justified torture would make sense to me. Going after workaday CIA agents seems less important. But at the end of the day I'm not sure this kind of retroactive, retributive punishment should be among the Justice Department's most pressing concerns. I'd suggest that Holder just "deprioritize" torture prosecutions the way Amerhert "deprioritized" marijuana law enforcement.What do you think?Khmer Rouge waterboarding equipment from Flickr user waterboardingdotorg, licensed under Creative Commons.