Well, that’s that. The Justice Department has just formally ended their investigation into CIA “enhanced interrogations” without bringing any charges.
This was the investigation headed by John Durham, the federal prosecutor selected in August 2009 to look into charges of torture in CIA interrogations during the Bush Administration. We know plenty about those charges. The Justice Department released a previously classified document around the same time that they named Durham to lead the investigation, detailing the methods they used to interrogate suspects, including plenty of methods that a plain reading would consider to be torture. This included waterboarding, stress positions, mock executions, threatening with handguns and power drills, vowing to kill or rape members of a detainee’s family, and inducing vomiting.
CIA officials and members of the Bush Administration consistently claimed that the techniques they performed were both legal and effective, citing multiple pieces of evidence that stopped terrorist plots. Much of this evidence was found to be bogus or unclear, and the consensus of the intelligence community is that torture does not work.
Early in the Administration, President Obama said he would look forward and not backward, even though the entire purpose of the criminal justice system is to look backward and prosecute on past crimes. However, Eric Holder, to whom Obama delegated authority over accountability for the torture program, did inaugurate this investigation. Now, three years later, it has disbanded, having done nothing.
In July 2010, federal judge and former Bush-era Justice Department official Jay Bybee, who wrote many of the Administration’s guidelines on interrogation, admitted to a House committee that CIA personnel never asked for approval for many of the interrogation techniques they used, that they went further than the prescribed guidelines from him, and that the ones he did prescribe were used excessively. Even if you believe that Bybee’s techniques were legal and did not violate federal and international conventions against torture, his testimony revealed clearly that CIA interrogators broke the law. Despite this prima facie evidence of unauthorized interrogation, the investigation went nowhere.
None of this can come as too much of a surprise, but there is an air of finality to it. The last case in America to look into illegal torture has been closed.