When President Bush announced in September 2006 that, as of that moment, there were no prisoners in CIA custody, he did not say that the CIA’s prison program was closing permanently. Indeed, the apparent purpose of his speech was the opposite: he argued that “as more high-ranking terrorists are captured, the need to obtain intelligence from them will remain critical—and having a CIA program for questioning terrorists will continue to be crucial to getting life-saving information.”77  And when he signed the Military Commissions Act into law a few weeks later, he asserted that the legislation would “allow the Central Intelligence Agency to continue its program for questioning key terrorist leaders and operatives.”78

President Bush is wrong on the law. Under any reasonable reading of the Detainee Treatment Act and the Military Commissions Act, the abusive treatment of detainees that characterized the CIA’s detention and interrogation program is illegal. But perhaps as worrying as the President’s misinterpretation of legal standards is his disregard of basic principles.

The CIA program—and the civilian leaders who created it—have inflicted tremendous harm on the reputation, moral standing, and integrity of the United States.  It is time, now, to repudiate that program, and to take steps to repair the damage it has caused.

77 The White House, “President Discusses Creation of Military Commissions to Try Suspected Terrorists,” September 6, 2006.

78 Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “President Bush Signs Military Commissions Act of 2006,” October 17, 2006. The President also said: “When I proposed this legislation, I explained that I would have one test for the bill Congress produced: Will it allow the CIA program to continue? This bill meets that test.”