President Obama made a tough call -- and the right one -- last week by releasing secret Justice Department documents detailing interrogation methods for extracting information from terror suspects. He also was right to balance that release by assuring CIA operatives they wouldn't be prosecuted for following rules that had been set by Justice lawyers.
So we now know exactly how many times interrogators used the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding on a small number of high-profile terrorists (183 times in one month). We know about how long they could deprive suspects of sleep (eight days). We know the prisoners could be stripped of their clothes, fed nothing but liquid and thrown against a wall 30 times.
Obama initially said he wanted to "move forward," but then said he wouldn't rule out taking action against the lawyers who set the legal guidelines for the interrogations. Obama was right the first time. This needs to be put in the rearview mirror, and soon.
Before Americans can do that, however, they need a more complete picture of what was done in the name of protecting the nation against another attack after Sept. 11, 2001. The memos released so far detail only half of the ledger. We know the costs, paid in policies that may or may not have crossed the line into the torture of suspects. What we haven't seen are the alleged benefits. What kind of intelligence did those interrogations yield, and what plots, if any, were disrupted? Former Vice President Dick Cheney, no friend of government transparency, wants more secret information disclosed. He essentially argues Americans can better evaluate the use of harsh techniques if they know what the interrogations yielded.
Obama administration officials have disavowed some tactics and promised that U.S. interrogators won't use them anymore. Knowing those limits may help terrorists train to withstand interrogations. But this debate isn't about what America's enemies will anticipate if they're captured. It is about the limits a democratic society sets so it does not sink to the level of those who seek to destroy it.