Report: 'Holy Hell' breaks loose over torture memos


by Diane Sweet

The Obama administration’s commitment to promises of transparency in government is being sorely tested by a battle that has erupted over Attorney General Eric Holder’s determination to release classified Bush-era interrogation memos, and intel officials equally as determined to keep those documents right where they are.

     Michael Isikoff reports for Newsweek:

As reported by NEWSWEEK, the White House last month had accepted a recommendation from Attorney General Eric Holder to declassify and publicly release three 2005 memos that graphically describe harsh interrogation techniques approved for the CIA to use against Al Qaeda suspects. But after the story, U.S. intelligence officials, led by senior national-security aide John Brennan, mounted an intense campaign to get the decision reversed, according to a senior administration official familiar with the debate. "Holy hell has broken loose over this," said the official, who asked not to be identified because of political sensitivities.

Brennan is a former senior CIA official who was once considered by Obama for agency director but withdrew his name late last year after public criticism that he was too close to past officials involved in Bush administration decisions. Brennan, who now oversees intelligence issues at the National Security Council, argued that release of the memos could embarrass foreign intelligence services who cooperated with the CIA, either by participating in overseas "extraordinary renditions" of high-level detainees or housing them in overseas "black site" prisons.

The high level tug-of-war is apparently what led the administration to strike a last minute deal with the American Civil Liberties Union for an extension giving them until April 16 to release three controversial 2005 memos. The ACLU "reluctantly" agreed to the court filing after the Adminstration agreed to consider the release of a fourth memo sought by the ACLU in its Freedom of Information lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in New York. The fourth document is reported to be a 2002 opinion by former Department of Justice attorney Jay Bybee, that ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer describes as "one of the cornerstones of the CIA’s torture program," and has long been sought by congressional committees and members of Congress no doubt due to the larger looming debate over accountability for the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody.

Read the full Newsweek article online here.


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