Yesterday the Obama White House released Bush era memos pertaining to torture and harsh interrogation techniques that have put our country in the same league of police states our own State Department routinely condemns. Obama released the memos with very little redaction, or “blacking out” of information (CIA black outs can run for several pages, subverting the whole principle of “freedom of information”), earning praise from civil liberties advocates such as Glenn Greenwald and criticism from Bush apologists. However, Obama pledged not to prosecute intelligence operatives who used these methods and indicated that, while the door remains opened, prosecution of Bush administration officials is unlikely: “This is a time for reflection, not retribution.”

“Retribution” is a straw man. The point of prosecuting high level officials, including Presidents, who broke U.S. law regarding torture is to put accountability into our democratic system and to prevent future abuses. Without punishment, the risk remains that a future White House — most likely Republican, as the current field of prospective presidential candidates parrot pro-torture talking points — will reinstate illegal and inhumane interrogation practices. Or, as Mark Benjamin put it:

But while Obama has turned the page, many others haven’t — including the people, and their allies, who think waterboarding was a good idea. Without a commission, if Mitt Romney (the man who pledged to double the size of the prison at Guantánamo) is president in 2013 — or 2017 — we could start torturing all over again.

Only a month ago, former Vice President Dick Cheney was griping that Obama was putting the country in danger because he has limited interrogation techniques to the Army Field Manual. The BushAdmin has nurtured a generation of legal opinion that right now is out of power (though not thoroughly; there are still many holdovers in the Justice Department), but will likely return following future elections. Cheney, after all, is a product of the Nixon White House, and lived long enough to revisit upon us the very abuses of state power and intelligence gathering that made that era so ugly.

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