Four previously secret memorandums released by the new US administration give an insight into how its predecessor lost its legal and moral compass in turning to torture and other ill-treatment in the name of counter-terrorism.
The release of the memorandums, written in the US Department of Justice in 2002 and 2005 to provide legal cover to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to use “enhanced” interrogation techniques in its secret detention program, is welcome. Amnesty International has long called for all such documents to be published.
However, accompanying statements issued by President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, effectively conferring impunity for acts of torture – crimes under international law, are incompatible with the USA’s international legal obligation to bring perpetrators to justice.
International law is clear. Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment can never be justified. They are never legal. Even in a state of emergency, there can be no exemption from this obligation.
International law is also clear about the state’s duties when this prohibition is violated. States must ensure that independent and impartial investigations are carried out into allegations of torture or other ill-treatment and that anyone found responsible is brought to justice.
In a letter to CIA officers, President Obama said: “In releasing these memos, the men and women of the CIA have assurances from both myself, and from Attorney General Holder, that we will protect all who acted reasonably and relied upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that their actions were lawful.
"The Attorney General has assured me that these individuals will not be prosecuted and that the Government will stand by them”. But there is no such thing as torture perpetrated in “good faith” or “reasonable” circumstances.