Thanks to the Obama administration and belated action by Congress, the Central Intelligence Agency is no longer in the business of torturing suspected terrorists in order to obtain information. But the United States still hasn't fully come to terms with what President Obama called a "dark and painful chapter in our history."
It's increasingly clear that such a reckoning will not come in a court of law. U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. has accepted a career prosecutor's recommendation that criminal charges not be filed in the deaths of two suspected terrorists in U.S. custody. Earlier, the prosecutor, John Durham, had recommended closing the investigation of other allegations that CIA employees had violated Justice Department interrogation guidelines, which themselves were shockingly tolerant of cruel and degrading treatment, including waterboarding.
In the case of the two deaths, Holder explained that "the department has declined prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt." We're in no position to argue with that conclusion, and we recognize that prosecutions shouldn't be brought simply for purposes of political closure. But Holder's decision is only the latest dismaying example of the inability or unwillingness of the legal system to hold accountable those who engaged in torture or provided a legal rationale for it. That pattern may persist if there is a criminal investigation of a new report by Human Rights Watch that the U.S. during the George W. Bush administration tortured members of an Islamist group seeking to overthrow then-Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi. (That doesn't mean the report shouldn't be investigated by the Justice Department.)