Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Obama, Release the Full Bradbury Memos!

The Wall Street Journal reports today that the release of two 2005 memos by then-White House counsel Stephen Bradbury are the subject of much contention in the Obama administration. Essentially, the CIA is lobbying hard to keep large portions of the memos secret. As the WSJ puts it:
A decision to keep secret key parts of the three 2005 memos outlining legal guidance on CIA interrogations would anger some Obama supporters who have pushed him to unveil now-abandoned Bush-era tactics. It would also go against the views of Attorney General Eric Holder and White House Counsel Greg Craig, people familiar with the matter said.

Top CIA officials have spoken out strongly against a full release, saying it would undermine the agency’s credibility with foreign intelligence services and hurt the agency’s work force, people involved in the discussions said. However, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair favors releasing the information, current and former senior administration officials said.

Human-rights groups and many in the administration have called the techniques torture.

People familiar with the matter said some senior intelligence advisers to the president raised fears that releasing the two most sensitive memos could cause the Obama administration to be alienated from the CIA’s rank and file, as happened during the Bush administration when Porter Goss, who was unpopular among CIA officers, headed the agency.
Besides waterboarding, the memos purportedly discuss in details other torture techniques, including "a technique in which a prisoner’s head could be struck against a wall as long as the head was being held and the force of the blow was controlled by the interrogator."

Will Obama release the full text of the memos, in the spirit of full disclosure he claimed he would bring to the White House? Or will he cover for the tortures, and bow to implied blackmail from the CIA?

Stephen Soldz put it well in an article at his blog today:
This is a defining moment for the Obama administration. If it makes the wrong decision, in some ways it may ever recover. It will have cast its lot in with the torturers and not with human rights or common decency.

Now Marc Ambinder is reporting at The Atlantic that his sources say the WSJ article "does not reflect the current state of thinking" at the White House.

Per Ambinder:
Tomorrow, the Department of Justice plans to release largely underacted versions of three Bush-era memorandums that critics suspect contain legal justification for torture and the broad use of executive power during wartime, according to an administration official. The critical question: how much does the administration withhold in the name of national security?....

Various news reports suggest that most of Obama's national security team favors the full release of the memos; Attorney General Eric Holder and White House counsel Greg Craig have lobbied for full release; CIA director Leon Panetta, who last week notified employees that the CIA's secret detention facilities would be shut down, has transmitted the concerns of the agency's field officers, who worry that full disclosure would hamper their efforts to question terrorists. Chief counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan favors releasing the legal analysis but not the specific techniques used; National Security Adviser James Jones and Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair count themselves in the transparency camp. Several members of Obama's Office of Legal Counsel urged the release of the memos before they joined the administration....

The ACLU today put pressure on the administration to release "full, unredacted" copies of the Bradbury memos.

The information in these memos is vital to the historical record and to informing the public about what actions were carried out in its name," said Jameel Jaffer the ACLU's top national security lawyer. "The release of the memos is also crucial to holding officials accountable for authorizing torture."
Mr. Ambinder concludes that if Obama doesn't release all the memos, "the left will start to really hammer him on torture proceedings, state secrets privilege and his quiet evolution on the Patriot Act."

We'll see.

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