Monday, April 6, 2009

Obama Administration Again Delays Release of the "Torture Memos"

The ACLU has been trying (for over a year) to get various memos and documents released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). These memos are the infamous "torture memos" which detail how the Bush Administration attempted to give legal authority to their decisions surrounding the treatment and interrogation of detainees in U.S. custody.

For obvious reasons, the Bush Administration was very resistant to the requests from the ACLU and now that the Obama Administration has taken power, there have been murmurs that they will end up releasing these controversial memos. Despite these murmurs and court-ordered deadlines by which the Administration would have been forced to either release the memos or give reasons to why they would continue to keep them sealed, the Obama Administration has asked for a total of four extensions to these deadlines. The most recent deadline of April 2 has now been extended to April 16.

Scott Horton has recently reported that there is conflict within the Obama Administration regarding the release of these documents and considerable push back from Republicans and John Brennan. Horton writes:

Brennan is a protege of former CIA director George Tenet and although he expressed some reservations about waterboarding, he was a defender of other
Tenet-era torture programs. Now ensconced as a senior counterterrorism advisor, he has become the principle advocate of the “don’t look back” mantra with respect to the misdeeds of the Bush years. And in this, Brennan’s principal concern is the protection of Brennan and Tenet–but in the process he has emerged as Dick Cheney’s clear champion.

The disclosure of the OLC memoranda presents a key policy fork in the road for Obama. If he is faithful to his commitment to transparency and to end torture, the government will have to come clean with these memos. If Obama keeps them under wraps, the public will have good reason to question his undertaking to end torture–and good reason to question whether a Cheney “shadow administration” actually has the power to influence policy.

Not only is Brennan apparently leading this opposition, but Horton also reported today that Republicans are threatening to vote against some of Obama's nominations if he doesn't keep these memos sealed:

Senate Republicans are now privately threatening to derail the confirmation of key Obama administration nominees for top legal positions by linking the votes to suppressing critical torture memos from the Bush era.

Alarming, but per usual, Glenn Greenwald hits the nail on the head in his analysis of this situation today:

If the Obama administration releases these memos in largely unredacted form, they will deserve credit for doing so. These memos, which an anonymous Obama official told Newsweek were quite "ugly," are virtually certain to fuel calls for investigations and prosecutions and erase all remaining doubt in the eyes of the world how directly and knowingly involved in the torture regime were our highest government officials. Disclosure will require a fair amount of political courage, and if they do that, credit ought to be given.

Conversely, a refusal to disclose these memos, or disclosing them with so many redactions as to render them meaningless, will be absolutely inexcusable. It doesn't matter how loudly John Brennan screams or how many nominations Republican Senators threaten to filibuster. Put simply, there is no legal authority for these memos to remain secret -- ongoing concealment is itself an act of profound lawlessness -- and, beyond that, keeping them secret will constitute the most extreme complicity yet on the part of the Obama administration in the last administration's war crimes. It was Obama who chose to place someone like Brennan in a position of high authority in his administration. That Brennan is now working with Bush-following Republicans to hide evidence of war crimes is, quite obviously, no excuse for continuing to hide it.

This is indeed a big test for the Obama Administration and if they are to assert their commitment to the principle that "no one is above the law", they will release these memos which will be essential to continue to build a case against the law-breakers of the last eight years.

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