We don’t torture.
Really, we don’t torture. We just used some carefully thought-out enhanced techniques.
Okay, maybe some of the stuff we did is torture, but we had a good reason.
No, we didn’t find that improbable operational relationship between the Muslim fundamentalist Al Qaeda and the secular Arab nationalist Saddam Hussein, the specter of which we used to justify the invasion of Iraq.
But hey, you can’t prosecute us; it’ll tear the country apart. It’s up to us anyway.
What? The Geneva Conventions obligate the U.S. government to investigate and prosecute torture, and other countries will if we don’t?
Rejecting impunity is crucial not only for dealing with past human rights violations, but also for preventing recurrences. The new US administration must ensure that investigations and prosecutions in individual cases are initiated while simultaneously working to remove legal or practical obstacles to criminal responsibility.
The obligation to take such steps derives in part from the USA's obligations under international law. The USA has been party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) since 1992 and to the UNCAT since 1994. Under these treaties:
All suspected violations must be promptly, thoroughly and effectively investigated through independent and impartial bodies.16
Where torture or other ill-treatment, summary or arbitrary killing, or enforced disappearance, are revealed, states must ensure that "those responsible are brought to justice".17 This includes not only those who directly perpetrated the acts, but also those who encouraged, ordered or tolerated them.18 States may not relieve those responsible for such violations from personal responsibility through general amnesties, legal immunities or indemnities or other similar measures. Impediments such as immunities arising from official statutes, defences of obedience to superior orders or unreasonably short periods of statutory limitation must accordingly be removed.19
The UNCAT specifically requires that each state ensure that "all acts of torture" (including at least all acts covered by the definition in article 1 of the UNCAT), any attempt to commit torture, and any "act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture" are offences under its criminal law.20 Any state where a person alleged to have committed any of these offences (anywhere in the world) is found must "submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution" unless it extradites him or her to another state for prosecution.21 The UNCAT expressly precludes defences such as "exceptional circumstances", superior orders, or public authority from ever being capable of being invoked in justification of acts of torture.22
Similar obligations are found under the Geneva Conventions and under customary international law.23
Not much wiggle room there, is there, Spotty?
None at all, grasshopper.
Do you suppose that Garrison Keillor did much reading on the Amnesty International website before he wrote his op-ed in the Strib this morning?