The revelation of the existence of White House memos authorizing the use of harsh interrogation techniques on terror suspects may not be entirely surprising, but they constitute powerful evidence that the full story of the U.S. tilt into torture has not yet been told.
For the sake of future generations who may find that the issue comes up again in their lifetimes, it is essential that it be told.
The revelation appeared in Wednesday's Washington Post, which reported that the White House, under pressure from an increasingly fretful CIA, produced two secret memos in 2003 and 2004 endorsing the CIA's use of interrogation techniques such as waterboarding. The memos had been withheld from the Senate Intelligence Committee, said its chairman, Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. The panel is investigating whether the CIA's interrogation policies were legal.
In response, the committee's top Republican, Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri, contended there was no new information in the disclosure of the memos, contending -- plausibly -- that it is common belief that the CIA had authorization for the interrogation techniques. He is right, but he also misses the point.
Adoption of torture as policy represents a precipitous change, not only in American policy, but in American temperament. The country walked off a cliff when its government made that decision. If we ever intend to reclaim our own self-image -- never mind how other countries view us -- we need to examine this issue in all of its aspects. That can't happen when the administration continues to conceal pertinent evidence of its decision-making.
There is also a strategic aspect to demanding all relevant information. Any future president considering such a radical departure from historical norms needs to know that there will be no statute of limitations on examining wrenching policy shifts.
That's why Rockefeller has it right and Bond has it wrong. Even with everything else on its plate, from a financial meltdown to terrorism to war, Congress needs to set the precedent. For as long as it takes to produce the fullest accounting possible, Congress needs to pursue the facts and determine how and why the government of this democracy secretly adopted torture as national policy.