For years, Bush assured the nation that "we did not torture".
Today, Obama released four legal memos which helped to describe what "interrogation techniques" we did use. Apparently, according to news reports, the decision to release the memos was a tough one for Obama, and one he did not take lightly. He saw the virtues of government transparency but had to weigh that against the necessity of keeping things secret. In the end, he realized that the cat was out of the bag, since some of the what the CIA did ("waterboarding", for example) was already revealed and known to the public.
So did we torture? Well, if you consider taking a prisoner, placing him in a small box, and putting stinging insects into that box to be "torture" (and how can you not?), then yes, we tortured. We violated Geneva Conventions; there's no other (honest) way to look at it.
Glenn Greenwald gives an excellent review of what the memos say here, so I don't have to. But the most starting excerpt of the memos is this admission (click to enlarge):
As the highlighted portions reveal, the legal eagles of the CIA knew we were practicing "interrogation techniques" that our State Department was condemning people like Saddam for using. In other words, we weren't holding ourselves to the same standards that we hold others to. When they do it, it's illegal torture; when we do the same thing, it's legal interrogation.
That same memo later goes on to admit that a court might not buy that argument (gee- you think?)
What an embarassment for the country.
UPDATE: Another memo makes the tortured legal argument (no pun intended) that something is only torture if it "shocks the conscience". The techniques the CIA used, it goes on to explain, don't shock the conscience in the constitutional sense because: