09/06/2012 10:47 am ET Updated Nov 06, 2012

The NYT Got It Right: Torturers Must Be Held Accountable

The New York Times this week published an editorial, "No Penalty for Torture," responding to Attorney General Eric Holder's decision last week not to prosecute those responsible for brutally torturing two detainees -- both of whom died during their imprisonment by the CIA.

Gul Rahman and Manadel al-Jamadi were in U.S. custody when they died, apparently as a result of torture. As the Times points out, Rahman died after suffering through induced hypothermia (an interrogation technique administered in Rahman's case by chaining him to a concrete wall in near freezing temperatures). Al-Jamadi died in the prison at Abu Ghraib, where, the Times says, his corpse was photographed wrapped in plastic.

It has previously been reported that other detainees endured additional forms of torture while being imprisoned and interrogated by the U.S. government, including waterboarding, being subjected to extremes of heat and cold, sleep deprivation, walling (slamming detainees against walls), and sexual abuse. The Attorney General's decision ends what the Times calls "any remaining hope for imposing meaningful accountability for torture and other abuses committed against prisoners under President George W. Bush."

President Obama halted the use of torture as an interrogation technique on his second full day in office in 2009. Since then, however, neither he nor his Department of Justice, have taken steps to ensure that any subsequent president doesn't lift the ban on torture. The Department of Justice, led by Attorney General Holder, has decided not to prosecute anyone who tortured detainees -- even those individuals who tortured so brutally that they killed the detainees in their custody. Congress has not passed legislation that would prevent the use of torture; currently only an executive order from President Obama -- which can be revoked by any future president -- prevents the practice. And, thus far, there has not even been a public investigation into the administrative failures that led to the worst and most inhumane abuses (although there is still hope for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to release to the public the report on their in-depth investigation into this question).

The interfaith organization with which I work, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), has been working to ensure that the United States government never uses torture again. Although the Department of Justice has decided not to prosecute those who committed these intolerable acts, the use of torture cannot -- and will not -- be forgotten or dismissed. The Attorney General closed his statement last week by arguing that the investigation "was not intended to, and does not resolve, broader questions regarding the propriety of examined conduct." When will the propriety of that conduct be examined? And who will be held responsible for these acts?

Americans are a just people, and we represent a nation built on a foundation of justice and fair treatment to all. And Americans, including those from the faith traditions that are part of NRCAT, know that there is never an excuse for torture. The decision to provide impunity to those who tortured prisoners, in some cases to death, is not reflective of American values or American justice. Our government is attempting to keep secret the realities of its past crimes. But this is how dictatorships operate, not democracies. The decision to provide impunity for torture, regardless of the reasons, is shameful.

The use of torture by the U.S. government is a scandal that cannot be swept under the rug. Until the truth is out, our nation's legacy remains tarnished.