Commentary: Release of Bush-era memos an important move

April 20, 2009 

This editorial appeared in The Miami Herald.

The Obama administration took two important steps last week to balance national-security requirements with the need to remain faithful to the U.S. Constitution.

In one instance, President Obama decided to release four Bush-era memos on extreme methods of interrogation because Americans need to know what was done in their name. At the same time, Attorney General Eric Holder made the only fair decision possible in declaring that those who dutifully relied on the legal validity of those memos should not be prosecuted now that the political climate in Washington has changed.

First things first: There is no justification for submitting anyone to waterboarding, sleep deprivation (for up to 11 days), head-banging and other repugnant forms of interrogation described in an Aug. 1, 2002, memo from the Office of Legal Counsel. It is hard to see how any faithful interpreter of the law could find that such measures conformed to legal restrictions against cruel and unusual punishment, or to U.S. responsibilities under the Convention Against Torture.

There is little new information in the memos because much of what they contain has been disclosed in countless news stories and books in recent years. By making them public, however, the administration sheds light on a sorry chapter of recent history and acknowledges the sordid nature of the deeds. It makes little sense to keep the memos secret on spurious "national security" grounds now that the Obama administration says they and the extreme methods they endorse no longer are valid.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Miami Herald.

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