The Daily Kos has an interesting post on just how extreme the use of water-boarding was in certain cases, and the conflicting records of the CIA on some "facts". They also have a handy-dandy petition to sign if you want to encourage the Obama administration to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the 'legal' shenanigans that made torture possible.
Torture defenders (Scalia defends his position by citing episodes of 24!) like to refer to the ticking bomb scenario and ask, "If you were in a room with someone who knew where a ticking nuclear bomb was hidden, and when it would go off, would you be willing to torture that person to get the information?"
Of course I would!!!!!! And I would accept the fact that it was totally ILLEGAL. I would be happy to face prosecution to save the lives of so many people. Just like if I was taking someone to the hospital in an emergency, I would be fine with running a red light-----I would still acknowledge the illegality of my behavior and accept any consequences.
But I would only be willing to torture if I truly had reason to be certain that the person I had control over really had the timely life-or-death information. I agree that in such very narrow circumstances, torture is the way to go. But I also think it should only be used in that sort of rare circumstance and that keeping torture illegal helps keep it very rare.
It appears that torture was being used with alarming frequency under the Bush administration. Furthermore, the fact that they subjected the same people to torture over prolonged periods of time (months!) totally undercuts the argument that they were using it under extreme time pressure----as in the ticking-bomb scenario. The 'legal' excuses cooked up by Yoo and Bybee to make allowances for this activity also paved the way for it to be used routinely, and on fishing expeditions.
There are a lot of other techniques available for getting information, and many CIA officers have repudiated the efficacy of torture. In addition casting such a wide net with torture has to reduce the willingness of people to report suspicious activity to the authorities. We must make sure not to dry up that most important source of information in our communities.
Obama must be careful to not let it appear that he is merely making a partisan attack on the last administration. Broad citizen support for an investigation will be necessary. So do please look into signing the petition!