The Financial Times argues, on its editorial page, that those responsible for the CIA’s brutal, routine use of torture should have their day in court. “The US,” writes the editorialist, “is a country based on the rule of law. That principle must apply to those entrusted with upholding the country’s constitution.”
From the “red scare” of the early 1920s, to McCarthyism in the 1950s and the fallout from 9/11, history offers many examples of America casting aside its values in the name of national security. The CIA’s post-2001 excesses fall into that bracket. There is a pattern of shock, over-reach, hangover and convenient memory failure. It is vital that this time is different. There can be little doubt that the CIA’s practices were morally and legally wrong. The [Senate’s CIA torture] report makes clear they were also flawed on utilitarian grounds. People under torture will say anything to stop the pain.
The next move must be to take action that minimises chances of a relapse. Some … have suggested Mr Obama pardon all those involved from George W Bush downwards. This would enshrine the programme’s illegality without opening up divisively political trials. That is too neat by half. What one president does, the next can undo.
Mr Obama has made it clear he does not want to “relitigate the past”. He should reconsider. Past lapses in US history, such as the Reagan-era Iran-Contra scandal, did result in prosecutions, convictions (and ultimately several pardons). There is no reason why this should be different. Where there is a strong chance of a successful prosecution, it should go ahead.
“A tortured legacy of the 9/11 terrorist attacks“, Financial Times editorial, 11 December 2014 (metered paywall).