The American public could learn more about George W. Bush and Dick Cheney’s torture and rendition policies on Friday if the Obama administration follows through on a promise to review a number of internal Bush administration documents. Earlier this month, the administration vowed to make its “best efforts” to process some 224 documents by October 30 to determine what can be publicly released. Government lawyers acknowledged last month that these documents are potentially responsive to a years-old ACLU Freedom of Information Act request for information relating to the death, treatment, and rendition of detainees.
The Bush administration initially considered these documents to be unrelated to the ACLU’s FOIA request. But when the Obama administration reviewed a large number of Bush-era documents under its new, less restrictive FOIA guidelines, it reached a different conclusion. The Obama team, however, couldn’t find ten of the documents that the Bush administration had originally listed in court filings.
In September, the Obama administration sent these 224 new documents to the CIA and other agencies for possible release. If government lawyers decide they can’t justify withholding any of the 224 documents, those records could be made public Friday. “Hopefully they will stick to that date, and hopefully we will get something,” says Alex Abdo, an ACLU lawyer working on the ongoing litigation concerning the FOIA request. ” If I were to guess, I would say that we will likely get at least a few documents, but it is really hard to know just yet.”
But there is one hitch: John Durham, a special prosecutor appointed by the Bush administration to look into the CIA’s destruction of interrogation videotapes, could conceivably preempt the release of any documents. In a filing last week in a related case, government lawyers said that Durham was claiming that the release of certain documents could interfere with his investigation and were off-limits. If Durham attempts to block the release of these documents, a court would have to decide whether his assertion of privilege was justified.
As Mother Jones has reported, one document that could be released is a 59-page Department of Defense top-secret memo from July 25, 2002. The document was actually just misfiled by the CIA, and the Obama team found it and sent it to the Pentagon for processing last month. The document is thought to outline the torture techniques, perhaps as part of an argument for using those techniques on detainees.