HOLD HEARINGS ON TORTURE

Americans deserve answers

When he was vice president, Dick Cheney never acknowledged the public's right to know anything. Now, suddenly, he has the full disclosure bug. He told Fox News last week that President Obama's decision to release memos written by the Bush Justice Department authorizing the abuse and torture of detainees inspired him to ask the Central Intelligence Agency to release transcripts of those interrogations.

Doing so, he said, would show the world how much valuable intelligence was obtained by subjecting detainees to forced nudity, prolonged sleep deprivation, slamming against walls, extremes of heat and cold and the near-drowning known as waterboarding. ...

Cheney raised an important point. Did violating the law against torture and abuse, shredding international treaties and destroying America's global standing actually do any good?

Cheney claims that the waterboarding saved thousands of lives. Most accounts that don't come from officials involved in the formation of those policies suggest that that is not the case. The question needs to be answered so Americans can decide if they want to buy into Cheney's view that the ends always justify such barbaric means.

Americans also need to know who pushed the Justice Department lawyers to twist the law and the Constitution to excuse torture. And we need to know the legal reasoning, if any, behind former President George W. Bush's decision to authorize illegal tapping of Americans' telephones and e-mail accounts.

We need to know the legal reasoning, planning and authorization behind Bush's program of "extraordinary rendition" -- in which people were abducted and sent to countries where it was obvious to all that they were in danger of being tortured, or would be tortured.

Until these questions are answered, there is no way to ensure that these abuses will never be repeated. And the only way to get those answers is with a full investigation that has both stature and subpoena power. ...

It was encouraging to hear Obama, who has been resisting a serious look at these abuses, virtually invite Congress to open an investigation. He also did not rule out criminal prosecutions, at least for the lawyers and other officials.

Punting this to Congress was not the bravest political act. But at least the White House recognizes that an investigation is needed and does not want to be seen as standing in its way. We can't imagine how such an investigation can move ahead without Cheney's testimony. But given the former vice president's new devotion to full disclosure, we're sure he'll be happy to comply.

NEW YORK TIMES