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Incoming: More Torture Documents

By Dan Froomkin
12:30 PM ET, 06/10/2009

Despite the Obama administration's best attempts to block the release of key documents and photographs -- and otherwise stymie investigations into the Bush torture legacy -- it looks like some more significant disclosures are coming down the pike.

Scott Shane writes in the New York Times that

Mr. Obama cannot control the courts, and lawsuits are turning out to be the force driving disclosures about brutal interrogations....

In new responses to lawsuits, the C.I.A. has agreed to release information from two previously secret sources: statements by high-level members of Al Qaeda who say they have been mistreated, and a 2004 report by the agency's inspector general questioning both the legality and the effectiveness of coercive interrogations.

The Qaeda prisoners' statements, made at tribunals at the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, were previously excised from transcripts of the proceedings, but they will be at least partly disclosed by this Friday, according to a court filing. The report by the inspector general, whose secret findings in April 2004 led to a suspension of the C.I.A. interrogation program, will be released by June 19, the Justice Department said in a letter to a federal judge in New York.

It's really hard to overstate how much we still don't know about the post-9/11 abuses of the Bush regime. But every little bit counts. These may be big bits. And as Shane reports, there's yet more on deck.

The releases expected this month will not begin to exhaust the anticipated disclosures on interrogation. The Justice Department's long-awaited ethics report on the lawyers who wrote the interrogation memorandums is set for release this summer. A criminal investigation of the destruction of interrogation videotapes by John H. Durham, a federal prosecutor, is still under way.

Meanwhile, Peter Finn writes in The Washington Post:

The Obama administration pressed ahead yesterday with its plans to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, flying a detainee to New York to face federal trial despite bipartisan opposition in Congress to bringing such prisoners to the United States for trial, resettlement or continued detention.

Ahmed Ghailani pled not guilty yesterday to capital charges in the 1998 bombings at U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Finn explains:

Human rights groups, which earlier expressed dismay about President Obama's announcement that some suspects would be tried in reformed military commissions, welcomed Ghailani's transfer. But Republicans and some military groups, who were cheered by the prospect of renewed military tribunals, sharply attacked the decision to hold any trials in the United States.

Ray Lilley writes for the Associated Press that the Pacific archipelago of Palau has

agreed to accept 17 Chinese Muslims who have languished in legal limbo at Guantanamo Bay, indicating a resolution to one of the major obstacles to closing the U.S. prison camp....

Two U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. was prepared to give Palau up to $200 million in development, budget support and other assistance in return for accepting the Uighurs and as part of a mutual defense and cooperation treaty that is due to be renegotiated this year.

AFP reports:

President Barack Obama risks creating "future Guantanamos" by continuing his predecessor's policy of indefinitely holding Al-Qaeda suspects, a prominent Democrat warned on Tuesday.

Senator Russ Feingold said he was "troubled" by Obama's policies, warning the practice of holding some suspected terrorists indefinitely risked being "effectively enshrined as acceptable in our system of justice."

Feingold warned the current administration risked mimicking the policies of the Bush administration, which "claimed the right" to detain anyone, anywhere, he said....

Speaking during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the consequences of "prolonged detention," Feingold said that could set "the stage for future Guantanamos, whether on our shores or elsewhere, with potentially disastrous consequences for our national security."

Daphne Eviatar writes for the Washington Independent:

Witnesses debated the legality of detaining suspected terrorists picked up around the world – as opposed to detaining "combatants" on a clear "battlefield," as international law allows. But much of the hearing's testimony focused on how a policy of indefinite detention of suspects who are presumed "dangerous," yet the United States refuses to try as criminals, will affect the nation's moral standing in the world and its ability to fight al-Qaeda....

The tension between whether the United States is fighting a "war" or trying to track down and prosecute violent criminals has created a rift — with human rights advocates and some military and national security experts on one side, and the Obama administration, which on this issue seems aligned more closely with Congressional Republicans, on the other.

And in a separate story, Eviatar hones in on what I, too, found the most amazing part of the hearing.

[I]t was actually Richard Klingler, a former lawyer in the Office of White House Counsel under President George W. Bush and former general counsel on the National Security Council staff, who presented the dilemma most starkly in his testimony.

Klingler noted that prolonged detention was "already widespread," well beyond Guantanamo, and set to continue "on a wide scale." From his prepared remarks:

The extent of the current Administration's continued use of war powers against terrorist organizations is hard to overstate. The Obama Administration has pursued nearly every aspect the prior Administration's conduct of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and against terrorist networks globally. As a formal matter, this Administration has embraced nearly all the components of wartime and related Executive powers asserted by its predecessor and then subject to controversy.

His nine-point list is pretty sobering stuff.

In yet more related developments, Perry Bacon Jr. writes in The Washington Post that a Senate provision barring the release of photos showing abuse of detainees has become one of several key issued holding up a bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

David Corn writes for Mother Jones about the Senate Intelligence Committee's stealth probe into the CIA's detainee and interrogation program and suggests that the committee

is in the position--and perhaps has the obligation--to answer this question: did Cheney tell senior members of Congress the truth about the Bush administration's use of harsh interrogation practices (a.k.a. torture) during hush-hush briefings on Capitol Hill?...

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the current chair of the intelligence committee, is not saying whether her probe will cover Cheney's participation in these briefings.

And Joan Walsh blogs for Salon about her debate with Liz Cheney last night on CNN:

[S]upport for closing Gitmo is bipartisan, I told Liz. It's mainstream opinion. The Cheney family position on Guantánamo is the one that's eccentric and extreme. Let's be clear about that. I think she started yelling at me around then, even though, according to CNN's new "Great Debate" feature, we were both supposed to let each other finish a 30-second opening statement.

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