Torture Memos and Accountability

On April 16, 2009, the Justice Department released four previously classified memos issued by its Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that provided legal guidance on the permissibility of certain aggressive techniques used during the interrogation of high-ranking al Qaeda suspects. The memos examined these techniques in light of the prohibition against torture under the Convention Against Torture (Torture Convention), the U.S. criminal statute that implements the Torture Convention ("the anti-torture statute"), and the prohibition on cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment under the Torture Convention. The release of the memos has provoked considerable discussion about possible criminal accountability for government officials who carried out interrogations or who formulated the legal guidance authorizing them. This Insight addresses questions regarding possible criminal liability for the responsible officials and some issues of state responsibility of the United States under international law.