Shorter Obama Administration: We'll confirm that torture was committed; we just want to assure everyone that we won't actually prosecute the crimes.
As Benen implies, this might be a justifiable stance -- at least it'd be defensible -- if it was coupled with aggressive prosecution of those who authorized, ordered and supervised the torture while letting off the grunts who actually committed it. But absent full war crimes trials of the torture masterminds -- including Bush and Cheney along with all the rest -- this is simply a pathetic nullification of basic laws, seasoned with some particularly hypocritical rhetoric about this being a "nation of laws".
Yes, we're a nation of laws: therefore we'll make sure everyone knows precisely what those laws are as we let the torturers off the hook for violating them.
Despicable. And edging horribly close to being an accomplice-after-the-fact (morally, I mean: I don't know about the legality of that status -- IANAL).
Update: Interestingly, Glenn Greenwald -- who has been following this issue extremely closely -- is more upbeat. He also seems to take seriously a statement by Senator Russ Feingold that while Obama won't "prosecute those who acted reasonably and relied in good faith upon legal advice... his decision does not mean that anyone who engaged in activities that the Department had not approved, those who gave improper legal advice or those who authorized the program could not be prosecuted." (Similar statements were made by anonymous administration officials.)
So perhaps I'm too pessimistic here. I dunno. I oppose the "following orders" defense, which Andrew Sullivan (like Greenwald, an admirably close follower of this issue) properly calls the Nuremberg defense. On the other hand, it is unquestionably more important for those who created, justified and authorized the torture to be prosecuted than those who obeyed orders. If that's still in the cards, I may retract this post.
But for the moment I'm disappointed.