What is it about accountability that inspires such antipathy in certain Senate Republicans? According to Congressional Quarterly (subscription required), nine Republicans are urging Attorney General Eric Holder “not to investigate CIA interrogators who might have exceeded Justice Department legal guidance on acceptable techniques.” But accountability and investigation are key if we are to put this sad chapter behind us, rather than trying to sweep it into the dustbin of history. The letter’s signatories express concerns about a “chilling effect” on United States intelligence activities. But shouldn’t torture, and the culture that led to its commission be not just chilled, but stopped altogether? The argument that holding those who break the law responsible for their actions will somehow damage American intelligence activities is little more than a smokescreen of fear mongering.

The Republicans make specific reference to Justice Department legal guidance, which raises another important point: the investigation should not and cannot stop with the intelligence community; it must extend to the lawyers who twisted the law and Constitution to structure these so-called guidelines in the first place. Or, as Senator Feingold put it in a letter written last month, “While allegations that individuals may have even gone beyond what was justified by those now-public OLC memos are extremely disturbing, we should not lose sight of the fact that the program itself — as authorized — was illegal, not to mention immoral and unwise.”

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