The Fierce Urgency of Now

10/14/2009 09:42 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In order to provide closure to the dark period of torture in American history we must do more than President Obama's initial actions in office. He has ended the American torture of suspected terrorists arising from the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks. He should be applauded for taking that step, but the torture was originally outlined and sanctioned in 2002 by a series of memos drafted by lawyers in the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel. It is now up to Attorney General Holder to remove the stain from our nation's moral character.

The abusive practices described in and authorized by those memos amount to torture - and torture is absolutely prohibited by our Constitution, several federal laws, and our international treaty obligations. Absolute prohibitions are absolute: there is never a defense to justify or excuse engaging in, or conspiring to engage in, torture.

Only a full-scale investigation of those who ordered, designed and justified torture, will establish a national consensus on what led Americans to commit torture, and reestablish our moral standing in the eyes of the world.

Torturing detainees in American custody has sent an awful message to the rest of the world. Not only has America lost its moral standing as a beacon of human rights, but military experts have concluded that the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are the primary reasons for attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq and undermine any guarantees that American prisoners of war will not be tortured by their captors.

That is why Alliance for Justice has released a new documentary, Tortured Law, which examines the role lawyers played in authorizing torture. The film is being used to spark debate across the country, and calls on Attorney General Eric Holder to uphold the Constitution and the law by releasing the Justice Department's report on the "torture memos" and authorizing a full investigation of torture.

It has already been called the "most poignant video yet to walk you through the law and evidence." But I hope it is more than a great video. I hope it serves as a call to action.

In times of great crisis we have no guarantee that future presidents will continue our American tradition against torture. That is why we must act now to learn how this tragedy of justice happened, and to keep history from repeating itself. It is up to us to ensure that America shines as a beacon for human rights again.