The Obama presidency opened with a blizzard of executive orders and memorandums charting the course for his administration. A prominent document banned inhumane interrogation methods against terrorist suspects, which he had made an issue during the campaign. On several occasions, the president later indicated that he hoped the issue would go away and not divert attention from his jam-packed agenda for the nation.
But a hundred days later, torture is far from going away, with constant new revelations that feed the controversy and stimulate Democratic demands for some sort of formal inquest into Bush administration misdeeds.
The latest eye-opening development is the release of a memo, signed by a ranking Justice Department official, authorizing extreme methods of interrogation, including waterboarding, at a time when he was hoping for a judicial appointment.
Jay Bybee had served in the Justice Department and the White House when he left in 1991 to go into teaching. Ten years later, he returned to Washington and applied to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales for an appointment to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where a position was expected to be vacated. Gonzales agreed. He asked Bybee, while waiting for the opening, to serve as the head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.
It was in that position that Bybee signed a so-called "torture memo" on Aug. 1, 2002. This was not publicly known when he came before the Senate Judiciary Committee for confirmation in 2003.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has called for Bybee's resignation from the court. Some Democrats have demanded that he be impeached.
Bybee told The New York Times that he still believes that the memorandums represented "a good faith analysis of the law" and properly defined the thin line between harsh treatment and torture.
But wait — there's more to come. The Pentagon has agreed to release a great number of photos depicting abuse of detainees. One way or another, the torture issue is likely to be with us for some time.
On the question of an official investigation of inhumane interrogation methods during the Bush administration, President Obama seeks to pass the buck to Attorney General Eric Holder for decision. But the president may learn where President Truman said the buck stops.