David Cole, expanding on his recent piece in The New York Review of Books, considers the perpetrators of the major intelligence leaks currently dominating the headlines: Edward Snowden, Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning, and Julian Assange. Cole reviews the actions and avowed motivations of these individuals—noting their similarities and differences—while subjecting each situation to legal analysis. Cole acknowledges the complex justifications on all sides, ultimately drawing out complicated questions of civic responsibility on the part of leakers and American society.
The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) excoriated the legal work done by John Yoo and Jay Bybee of the Office of Legal Counsel on the torture memos, but DOJ’s ultimate decision stopped short of referring Yoo and Bybee for professional discipline. Serious questions remain, particularly since the OPR was unable to obtain the testimony of many high-level officials who played critical roles in authorizing torture. A full-scale investigation, preferably by an independent commission not part of the very department implicated in the wrongdoing, is still necessary. Great Britain conducted such an independent inquiry into the abusive practices used against IRA prisoners in the 1970s, and the United States must do the same. The essential lesson must be that torture and cruel treatment are not policy options, even when lawyers are willing to write opinions blessing illegality.