While these CIA officials (including Obama's terrorism advisor, John Brennan) argued that releasing these memos would hurt national security and burden CIA officers with inquiries, Glenn Greenwald is right to point out:
I want to underscore one vital point about this controversy that is continuously overlooked and will be undoubtedly distorted today in the event of non-disclosure: these documents are not intelligence documents. They are legal documents and, more specifically, they constitute what can only be described as secret law under which the U.S. was governed during the Bush era. Thus, the question posed by the release of these OLC memos is not whether Obama will release to the public classified intelligence programs. The question is whether he will release to the public the legal doctrines under which the U.S. Government conducted itself regarding interrogation techniques he claims are no longer being used.
It is also being reported that Obama agreed to release these memos while promising that no CIA officials would be prosecuted for the torture of detainees in U.S. custody. In fact, it is believed that the CIA agent's names are going to be the only portion of these memos that will be redacted. We will have to wait and see if this is the case, but it indicates that President Obama has attempted to issue a kind of compromise in the release of these memos, but did not extend this same promise to Bush Administration officials.
In the same breath Obama, once again, used "look to the future, not the past" type of language when making this announcement:
This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America’s ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future.
This should mark the beginning in taking the necessary action to make sure that this type of behavior never happens again. Simply releasing these memos will not allow us to "move forward with confidence". We should make this the first step in recommitting this country to a land where political leaders are not above the law.
With that being said, Obama certainly deserves credit for making a decision that was a true test of his commitment to move away from some of the secrecy of the last eight years. Here is a clip of Former CIA Director Hayden on MSNBC to underscore the pressure that Obama was up against in making such a decision:
UPDATE: This story is breaking and the memos are slowly becoming available. Here is the August 1, 2002 memo.
May 10, 2005 Number One
May 10, 2005 Number Two
May 30, 2005
I have just glanced at these so far, but they are quite disturbing and worth your time. I will be reviewing them over the next few days and will have more analysis.