Eagle editorial: Torture needs sunlight

As much as President Obama and other officials may wish otherwise, our government’s past policy of torturing terrorism suspects won’t stay locked in a dark cell of history. And that’s a good thing, as our country needs to know what was done in its name.

Polish state prosecutors are trying to hold its leaders accountable for allowing the United States to detain and torture terrorism suspects in a secret site about 100 miles north of Warsaw. The prosecutors have charged Poland’s former interior minister and intelligence chief with violating international and Polish laws. Other officials may also be charged.

If the cases go to trial, details about the extent and depravity of the torturing could become public – which is why some U.S. and Polish officials are trying hard to block the cases.

Though he opposed torturing, Obama decided it would be bad politics to take actions against the previous administration. His attitude seemed to be that it is good enough that we stopped torturing, and that we should move on.

But there is still much we don’t know about what our government did and the laws it violated. And some of the same shoddy legal arguments that the Bush administration used to justify torture are now being used by the Obama administration to justify its “kill list.”

As some former Bush officials have complained, why is it wrong to torture people but OK for Obama to order drone strikes to kill people, including an American citizen?

Obama also didn’t live up to his promise to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, which became an international symbol of U.S. human-rights hypocrisy.

Others have acted as if the torturing never happened. When he was chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., assured the Eagle editorial board that the United States was not sending people to other countries to be tortured.

But not only did the United States operate “black sites” in Poland, Thailand, Romania and Lithuania, it sent some suspects to Middle East countries, where they were tortured.

There have been some investigations on the abuse, including by a special prosector appointed by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. A heavily redacted 2004 CIA inspector general’s report, which was released only because of a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, said that CIA interrogators conducted mock executions, choked a prisoner repeatedly, and threatened to kill a detainee’s children and to force another to watch his mother being sexually assaulted. They also waterboarded detainees, including one person more than 200 times.

The reason the United States was able to stray so far from its ideals and the rule of law was that it acted in secret. The best way to prevent that from happening again is to expose those dark deeds to some sunlight.

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee