Releasing the torture memos

RELEASING THE TORTURE MEMOS…. There’s been consider behind-the-scenes wrangling between the Justice Department and intelligence agencies over the potential release of Bush-era torture memos. It looks like Holder, accountability, and transparency, are going to win.

After a tense internal debate, the Obama administration this afternoon will make public a number of detailed memos describing the harsh interrogation techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency against al Qaeda suspects in secret overseas prisons.

The interrogation methods were among the Bush administration’s most closely guarded secrets, and today’s release will be the most comprehensive public accounting to date of the interrogation program that some senior Obama administration officials have said used illegal torture.

The documents are expected to include Justice Department memos from 2002 and 2005 authorizing the C.I.A. to employ a number of aggressive techniques- including sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme temperatures and “waterboarding,” the near-drowning technique.

Among the anticipated documents are detailed 2005 memos by Stephen G. Bradbury, who as acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel authorized the C.I.A. techniques. The documents have never before been made public, but a story by The New York Times in October 2007 said that the memos gave legal support for using a combination of coercive techniques at the same time and concluded that the C.I.A.’s methods were not “cruel, inhuman or degrading” under international law.

Another document expected to be released this afternoon is a Justice Department memo written August 1, 2002. The memo, written by John C. Yoo and signed by Jay S. Bybee, two Justice Department officials at the time, is a legal authorization for a laundry list of proposed C.I.A. interrogation techniques.

If the NYT report is right, this is a very encouraging development. Intelligence officials, most notably John Brennan at the National Security Council, had reportedly raised “holy hell” over this issue, and urged the White House not to release the memos. The arguments were hardly persuasive.

Of particular interest will be the response from Senate Republicans, who recently vowed to derail administration nominees for key legal positions unless the White House agreed to suppress the torture memos. As Scott Horton reported, “It now appears that Republicans are seeking an Obama commitment to safeguard the Bush administration’s darkest secrets in exchange for letting these nominations go forward.”

President Obama, apparenrly, isn’t playing by the GOP’s rules. We’ll see what happens.