CIA Provides Further Details on Secret Interrogation Memos

January 10, 2007 12:00 am

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August 2002 Memo Discussed “Alternative Interrogation Methods”

NEW YORK – In an ongoing lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union, the CIA has filed a declaration arguing that the agency should not be compelled to release two Justice Department memos discussing interrogation methods and a presidential order concerning the CIA’s authorization to set up detention facilities outside the United States.

“The CIA’s declaration uses national security as a pretext for withholding evidence that high-level government officials in all likelihood authorized abusive techniques that amount to torture,” said ACLU attorney Amrit Singh. “This declaration is especially disturbing because it suggests that unlawful interrogation techniques cleared by the Justice Department for use by the CIA still remain in effect. The American public has a right to know how the government is treating its prisoners.”

One of the documents is described as a “14-page memorandum dated 17 September 2001 from President Bush to the Director of the CIA pertaining to the CIA’s authorization to detain terrorists.” According to the brief, of the 14 pages, 12 pages are “a notification memorandum” from the president to the National Security Council regarding a “clandestine intelligence activity.” The ACLU said this revelation raises questions regarding the extent to which Condoleezza Rice was involved in establishing the CIA detention program as National Security Advisor.

In its declaration, the CIA also says that the Bush memo is so “Top Secret” that National Security Council officials created a “special access program” governing access to the document. It states that “the name of the special access program is itself classified SECRET,” meaning that the CIA believes that the disclosure of the program’s name “could be expected to result in serious danger to the nation’s security.”

The other two documents are legal memoranda prepared for the CIA by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. One is an 18-page legal memorandum dated August 1, 2002 “advising the CIA regarding interrogation methods it may use against al Qaeda members.” It includes information “regarding potential interrogation methods and the context in which their use was contemplated.” It also discuses “alternative interrogation methods,” a phrase that was echoed by President Bush in a September 2006 speech promoting the Military Commissions Act. According to news reports, interrogation methods specifically authorized by the undisclosed Justice Department memo and used by the CIA include “waterboarding,” a technique meant to induce the perception of drowning, and the use of “stress positions.”

The ACLU said that the CIA’s declaration suggests that the August 1, 2002 memo remains in effect. In particular, the CIA argues that public disclosure of the methods cleared by the Justice Department would allow terrorists “to resist cooperation.”

The second Office of Legal Counsel document being withheld is a “31-page undated, unsigned, draft legal memorandum…that interprets the Convention Against Torture.” According to the CIA, the document is a “preliminary” version of an August 1, 2002 memo prepared for Alberto Gonzales by Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee. The CIA said it is withholding the document on attorney work-product and “deliberative process” grounds, noting that disclosure of the draft would permit the public to compare versions and “identify the similarities and differences between the draft and final legal documents.”

The final Bybee memorandum contended that abuse does not rise to the level of torture under U.S. law unless it inflicts pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” After public outcry, that memorandum was rescinded by the administration in December 2004.

The CIA previously claimed that it could neither deny nor confirm the mere existence of the documents without jeopardizing national security. But the agency backed away from that claim after President Bush acknowledged in his September speech that the CIA does in fact detain and interrogate terrorism suspects overseas.

“Through these memos, the president and Office of Legal Counsel created a legal framework that was specifically intended to allow the CIA to violate both U.S. and international law,” said Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Director of the ACLU’s National Security Program. “While national security sometimes requires secrecy, it is increasingly clear that these documents are being kept secret not for national security reasons but for political ones.”

The documents discussed in the CIA’s declaration have been the subject of Congressional interest as well. In a November 16, 2006 letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Senator Patrick Leahy requested these among other documents, and also sought clarification from the Justice Department on whether the August 1, 2002 interrogation techniques memo has been modified or withdrawn since 2002. In a letter dated December 22, 2006, the Justice Department refused to release the documents to Senator Leahy and did not deny that the August 1, 2002 interrogation techniques memo remains in effect.

The CIA declaration is online at: pdfs/safefree/20070110/ cia_dorn_declaration_items_1_29_61.pdf

The ACLU also released today Defense Department declarations purporting to explain why the department is withholding numerous other documents related to prisoner abuse. Those declarations are available online at:

To date, more than 100,000 pages of government documents have been released in response to the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. The ACLU has been posting these documents online at:

Attorneys in the FOIA case are Lawrence Lustberg and Melanca Clark of the New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, P.C.; Jaffer, Singh and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU; Arthur Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the New York Civil Liberties Union; and Bill Goodman and Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

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