The approval of torture by the Bush administration seemed to come from the highest levels, and it seems that this use of torture was largely futile. There is tremendous precedent for use of torture and the body of information suggests strongly that the information gained is largely useless.
There is, however, one frustrating argument in favor of the use of torture to extract information from non-cooperative individuals and it goes like this:
There is a bomb that will go off in 24 hours and it is in the middle of a huge metropolitan area. If you can 'extract' this information, you can save millions of people.
While torture if repugnant and goes against everything that we have come to believe in, how does one deal with a situation like this?
Fortunately the US Constitution provides a mechanism for the Executive branch to use methods that are illegal by US law (There is no real way to protect people from trial in international courts). This mechanism is the Presidential pardon.
The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States;.... and he shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.
From the US Constitution, Article 2 Section 2.
In the scenario described above, the President could authorize the use of otherwise illegal means to obtain the information necessary to save millions of lives IN AN IMMEDIATE EMERGENCY, then the people who carried out these actions are tried and convicted of breaking US law. Then the President issues the pardon. If he or she personally breaks US law then he or she may be impeached for these offenses. Surely this would be acceptable if millions of lives were saved.
But the current situation did not meet the criteria in a number of ways. There was no immediate emergency. There was no clearly identified threat against millions of Americans. There was no bomb ticking down in the middle of a US city.
The people who carried out this torture should be held accountable, including the people who participated in the acts of torture and the people who authorized it. If it is found that these people were operating in the best interests of the US population (and, indeed, the world population) then they should receive pardons. Pardons can only be issued after conviction. They are not used to preclude prosecution.