Releasing Secret Legal Opinions Will Help Turn Page On Lawless Era, Group Says
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NEW YORK – In a letter sent to the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) today, the American Civil Liberties Union requested the release of secret memos that provided the legal basis for many of the Bush administration's controversial national security policies. The Justice Department continues to withhold many legal opinions, including memos purporting to allow torture and warrantless surveillance. The ACLU has previously sought the memos through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
"Releasing the memos would allow the public to better understand the legal basis for the Bush administration's national security policies; to better understand the role that the OLC played in developing, justifying, and advocating those policies; and to participate more meaningfully in the ongoing debate about national security, civil liberties, and human rights," said the ACLU in the letter.
In its letter, the ACLU called on the OLC to release, at the earliest possible date, dozens of legal memos related to interrogation, detention, rendition, surveillance and other Bush administration policies. Since 2003, the ACLU has filed three lawsuits to enforce FOIA requests seeking the OLC legal opinions and other government records. These lawsuits have resulted in the release of thousands of documents, but most of the key OLC memos are still being withheld.
"Releasing the memos would also signal to Americans, and to the world, that you intend to turn the page on an era in which the OLC served not as a source of objective legal advice but as a facilitator for the executive's lawless conduct," the letter continued.
The ACLU's letter cites President Obama's recent memoranda on "Transparency and Open Government" and FOIA. The president recognized the connection between government transparency and effective democracy, and directed federal agencies to minimize government secrecy and apply a presumption in favor of openness.
"President Obama should be commended for having made an unambiguous and historically unparalleled commitment to government transparency," said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. "We're eager to see this commitment put into practice."
More information, including a copy of the ACLU's letter to the OLC, a chart of the still-secret OLC memos, a video and information about the ACLU's FOIA litigation, is available at: www.aclu.org/safefree/general/olc_memos.html
Also today, the media organization ProPublica launched a Web feature that lists and describes the OLC memos that are still secret. The feature is based in part on information that the ACLU has obtained through FOIA litigation. It's available online at: www.propublica.org/memos