Any remaining hope for imposing meaningful accountability for torture and other abuses committed against prisoners under President George W. Bush has ended, for all practical purposes.
On Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. announced that no one would be prosecuted for the brutal deaths of two prisoners held in C.I.A. custody.
One of the prisoners, a suspected militant named Gul Rahman, died in 2002 after being shackled to a concrete wall in near-freezing temperatures in a secret C.I.A. prison in Afghanistan. The other, Manadel al-Jamadi, died in C.I.A. custody in 2003 at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where his corpse was photographed wrapped in plastic.
In his statement, Mr. Holder suggested that the decision not to bring prosecutions should not be seen as a moral exoneration but a sign that the record was not “sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction.”
The public deserves a more detailed explanation of why charges could not be brought. In these egregious cases, it appears as though the C.I.A. interrogators tortured prisoners to death, going beyond even the harsh techniques authorized by the infamous torture memos cooked up by Justice Department lawyers to try to justify the unjustifiable. Not pursuing criminal charges may remove an avenue of attack against the Obama administration by Republicans, who continue to defend the use of torture. But absent a more persuasive explanation, the implications for the rule of law are deeply troubling.