The public reaction to Barack Obama's attempt to draw a line under the issue of torture by US government agents is a classic demonstration of the inability of political leaders to please all of the people all of the time.
The President has been heavily criticised by human rights organisations for saying there will be no prosecutions of those who applied such interrogation techniques. But he has been lambasted by others (most of them associated with the intelligence services) for making public the confidential documents which provided a legal justification for these practices. The first group accuse the President of granting torturers immunity; the second of recklessly jeopardising US security.
The former US Vice-President, Dick Cheney, yesterday joined the second camp. This is hardly surprising. Mr Cheney was known to be the driving force in the Bush administration behind the application of techniques such as water boarding to extract information from captured terror suspects. Yet Mr Cheney's intervention went beyond admonishing Mr Obama for publishing the documents. He is now calling on the White House to go a step further and release evidence of the "success" of these techniques.
Those attacking President Obama for his refusal to pursue CIA agents through the courts are misguided. Prosecutions would have demoralised America's intelligence, compromising their work. And it is questionable to what extent justice would have been served by going after those who carried out these interrogations, while leaving those who ordered them untouched.
In fact, the President struck a reasonable balance. By publishing the documents, Mr Obama made it clear that the White House considers the techniques illegal. And in signalling that there will be no retrospective legal action, he lifted an inhibiting burden from the shoulders of the intelligence services.
As for Mr Cheney's call for the evidence of what these interrogation sessions produced to be made public, it is possible that he is playing a cynical game. It might be that he knows this information is too sensitive to be released and that his bluff will not be called.
Yet, in principle, Mr Cheney's plea for full transparency is unimpeachable. If there is secret evidence suggesting that water boarding produces hard intelligence (and intelligence that could not have been produced in any other way) then let it be made public. And let us see if Mr Cheney's claims regarding the effectiveness of torture truly stand up to scrutiny.
If America and its allies – including Britain – are to close this ugly chapter we need to drag not only the abhorrent interrogation techniques out of the shadows, but the supposed results too.Reuse content