Is the Administration Doing the Right Thing on the Torture Memos?

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Yesterday the Obama administration released several secret memos, written by the Bush administration's Department of Justice, that lay out a legal argument for permitting certain interrogation techniques on terror suspects that many believe constitute torture. Now Obama is taking fire from both the right and the left — many conservatives don't think revealing our methods is useful or necessary, and many liberals are upset that Attorney General Eric Holder has decided not to prosecute the CIA interrogators who simply followed the legal guidelines created by their higher-ups.

• Emily Bazelon finds the series of memos "chilling for the pain and violence it portrays, and more than that for its efforts to minimize that pain and violence so as to make believe that it did not amount to torture and thus wasn't outlawed by" international treaties. [XX Factor/Slate]

• Ezra Klein laments, "At some point in the past eight years, we became the sort of country that put detainees in small boxes and threatens to cover them in stinging insects." [American Prospect]

• Matt Yglesias calls the memos "chilling reading," and suspects that if the acts described "were done to your dad, you would call it torture." [Think Progress]

• Kevin Drum thinks that the techniques described in the memos "are plainly and instinctively abhorrent by any common sense definition, and the authors of the memos obviously know it. But somehow they have to conclude otherwise, so they write page after mind-numbing page of sterile legal language designed to justify authorizing it anyway." [Mother Jones]

• Andrew Sullivan writes that "Bybee is not representing justice in this memo. He is representing the president. And the president is seeking to commit war crimes. And he succeeded." [Atlantic]

• Ed Morrissey would "like to defend Bybee, but in this case, with this memo," he agrees "with the critics. Bybee turned [part of the torture statute] on its head in order to justify the waterboarding request." [Hot Air]

• Jeffrey Toobin finds it interesting that while John Yoo has been getting all the attention, Bybee was able to "slip through the cracks of this story so easily." [News Desk/New Yorker]

• Glenn Greenwald contends that Obama's decision to release the memos and his decision not to prosecute those who did the torturing can be separated. "It's perfectly coherent to praise one and condemn the other." [Salon]

• Hugh Hewitt points out that Congress declined to define torture itself, while the "DOJ legal analysis was the best effort of front-line lawyers in the aftermath of a massive attack on the United States." [Town Hall]

• Michael Hayden and Michael Mukasey claim that the "release of these opinions was unnecessary as a legal matter, and is unsound as a matter of policy," and will "invite the kind of institutional timidity and fear of recrimination that weakened intelligence gathering in the past, and that we came sorely to regret on Sept. 11, 2001." [WSJ]

• Kathryn Jean Lopez wonders, "If the facts are already out there, why the need for yesterday? Unless you're looking to drum up support for prosecutions?" [Corner/National Review]

• The Washington Post editorial board believes the Obama administration "struck exactly the right balance" with the decisions to forgive the "government agents who may have committed heinous acts they were told were legal," and to signal "that such acts must never again be condoned by the United States." [WP]

• Ta-Nehisi Coates says that ignoring past crimes "shrugs off arguably the solemn responsibility of safeguarding the future. The price of doing nothing, of not enforcing laws, is the implicit statement that it really is OK to torture, that the most you'll face is a wag of the finger." [Atlantic]

• Alex Koppelman says the Obama administration has left the door open to prosecuting those who wrote the memos, it seems, because it "hasn't come to a decision about them yet." [War Room/Salon]

• Jennifer Rubin concludes "that for the sake of some sort of misguided soul-searching the Obama team has made it harder for national security officials to do their jobs and has given valuable information to the worst of the worst of America’s enemies." [Contentions/Commentary]

• Joe Klein calls the release of the memos "the right thing to do," but believes that it "may cripple Obama's relations with the clandestine service — or not." [Swampland/Time]

• Adam Serwer targets the doctors who served as "alibis" for the CIA interrogators. [Tapped/American Prospect]

• Stephen Stromberg has "a lot of sympathy for the idea of a Truth Commission, which would document the excesses of the Bush administration," but right now, one might become "an exercise in political revenge, raising the stakes and consequences of partisan bickering even higher than they already are." It would also distract from "the many huge questions surrounding Obama’s reform package." [Post Partisan/WP]

• William Kristol wonders if Obama still thinks we're at war. [Weekly Standard]