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Obama Releases Four Bush-OLC Torture Memos

On April 16, in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, President Obama ordered the release of four Bush-era Office of Legal Council memos dealing heavily with the techniques and attempted legal rationalization of the “enhanced interrogation program” established by the Bush administration and used on “high value detainees.”

Some high-ranking members of the nation’s intelligence services lobbied Obama not to release the memos, or to do so in heavily redacted form. Obama released the memos almost entirely unredacted, but promised that CIA personnel who had in good faith relied on the executive branch Office of Legal Council’s advice that the techniques were legal, would not be prosecuted. This is widely regarded not to rule out prosecution of those who authorized and ordered the use of the techniques. 

The recently leaked International Committee of the Red Cross torture report (complied by cross-confirmation of prisoner interviews, and portrayed by some critics as prisoners’ tall tales) was confirmed nearly line for line by the Bush OLC memos.

The four memos are available for download (pdf) here.

Many reactions from political and legal commentators on the left and right are collected by The Atlantic‘s Andrew Sullivan, here (pt 1) (pt 2) (pt 3):

The redaction (blacking-out) of the memos, where present, is sometimes poorly executed. As I read over the memos last night, i noticed several instances of a year being blacked out, followed immediately by the year being visible in a reference to the same document.

Dafna Linzer at ProPublica spotted a more significant error (or intentional slip?) in the redactions, where the name of ‘ghost detainee’ Hassan Ghul, was inadvertently left visible. Ghul’s whereabouts are unknown since 2004. He was not transferred to Guantanamo Bay with 14 “high value” detainees in 2007 as expected by humanitarian groups.

Read Linzer’s article here.

Clearly, this is a huge legal event, and a political firestorm in the making.