Here are two things we know for sure: the United States used torture against individuals in our custody and that use of torture was authorized by high-ranking government officials in consultation with Justice Department lawyers. We know this from the voluminous record of documents received in response to Freedom of Information Act requests. Some of that material was collected and published by Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh, in their book, “Administration of Torture”. Much of it is available at the ACLU website. It is a difficult, but worthwhile, read.
Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, and the litigation to force the Government to comply, we are not at the point where there needs to be a lot of head scratching about what happened, or how it happened. The question for us know is whether the responsible parties will be held accountable.
Attorney General Holder has now publicly acknowledged that he may appoint a special prosecutor to investigate criminal wrongdoing. This is encouraging. The only potentially discouraging outcome would be an investigation that focused exclusively on low-rank functionaries. Those folks certainly need to be held accountable too, but the only way to make sure torture is never committed in our name again is to show that high office is no protection from public justice.