Thursday, April 16, 2009

Classified on grounds of national insecurity

Earlier this week, we noted reports that Obama would blink on releasing the still-classified torture memos in detail.

It now appears that there will indeed be some redactions:
The Obama administration is expected to release some operational details of a Central Intelligence Agency interrogation program and its legal rationale, while seeking to keep secret the names of detainees and the way techniques were applied to particular prisoners, two officials familiar with the matter said Wednesday.

An announcement is expected Thursday on the release of memorandums in which Department of Justice lawyers gave legal guidance on CIA interrogations. During a fierce debate, CIA officials have argued for keeping sensitive information secret, while Attorney General Eric Holder and other Obama administration lawyers have favored a full release.

Administration lawyers on Wednesday were still deliberating what portions of three memos would be released. The two officials said the administration plans to propose redacting parts of the memos. In addition to the prisoner names, certain operational details of interrogations are expected to stay secret, they said.
I'm not sure what purpose is served by concealing the names, at least if they're already known to be in our custody (KSM for ex). One suspects it's motivated by a desire to hide from the courts whether a given detainee was tortured.

The other redaction, on applications, is hard to understand from the article. We'll know that waterboarding or beating was approved, but not get the details of what it did?

I would've thought those details would be only in CIA docs, not in OLC memos. The WSJ article refers to "[three] memorandums in which Department of Justice lawyers gave legal guidance on CIA interrogations." So it appears that, as suspected, CIA tortured first and sought legal cover afterwards?

The NYT reports the expected release, but not the redactions.

(H/t Political Wire.)

... Busy day. No prosecutions of CIA torturers, reports TPM. Though the scope isn't clear:
The Obama administration on Thursday informed CIA officials who used waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics on terror suspects that they will not be prosecuted, senior administration officials told The Associated Press.

* * * the statement being issued Thursday by Attorney General Eric Holder, the nation's chief law enforcement officer, is the first definitive assurance that those CIA officials are in the clear, as long as their actions were in line with the legal advice at the time.
As noted above, the CIA may've been torturing folks *before* getting OLC cover. So I'm not sure what this means.

The article (from the AP) also has more detail on the memos to be released:
The Holder statement was being issued by the Justice Department along with the release of four significant Bush-era legal opinions governing — in graphic and extensive detail — the interrogation of terror detainees, the officials said. One of the memos was produced by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel in August 2002, the other three in 2005.
Four, not three, then?
The memos, released to meet a court-approved deadline in a lawsuit against the government in New York by the American Civil Liberties Union, detail the dozen harsh techniques approved for use by CIA interrogators, the officials said. A statement from Obama was also being released along with Holder's comments and the documents.

One memo specifically authorized a method for combining multiple techniques, a practice human rights advocates argue is particularly harmful and crosses the line into torture even if any of the individual methods do not.

* * * There is very little redaction, or blacking out, of detail in the memos, the officials said.

The methods include keeping detainees naked for long periods, keeping them in a painful standing position for long periods, and depriving them of solid food. Other tactics included using a plastic neck collar to slam detainees into walls, keeping the detainee's cell cold for long periods, and beating and kicking the detainee. Sleep-deprivation, prolonged shackling, and threats to a detainee's family were also used.

Among the things not allowed in the memo were allowing a prisoner's body temperature or caloric intake to fall below a certain level, because either could cause permanent damage, the officials said.
Holy shit. No need to prosecute anyone for beating and kicking, is there? Not if the lawyers said it was okay!

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