There is an astonishing effort by intelligence officials to block Attorney General Eric Holder and White House counsel Gregory Craig from releasing torture memos from the Justice Department. A senior national-security aide named John Brennan is leading the effort to block the release with the backing of people at the CIA. It takes considerable hubris given the CIA’s knowing destruction of evidence of torture and obvious motivation to withhold the memoranda to further conceal the agency’s involvement in war crimes. One official is quoted as saying “Holy hell has broken loose over this.” That is certainly the proper venue for officials still struggling to cover-up evidence of war crimes.
What is most disturbing is the role of Brennan who Obama considered as agency director. Brennan was blocked by critics who rightly saw the former senior CIA official as too close to past officials involved in such programs as the torture program. Brennan has now proven his critics to be absolutely correct about their distrust. Nevertheless, the Obama Administration (which has retained a number of controversial intelligence officials from the Bush years) still put Brennan into a high position overseeing intelligence issues at the National Security Council. There is also a concern over CIA Director Leon Panetta who has adopted a highly defensive role in protecting the agency and is now viewed as less than a reformer at the agency.
At issue is the follow up to the controversial 2002 torture memo, written by former Justice lawyers Jay Bybee and John Yoo. That memo has been rounded criticized as containing extremist theories and shoddy work (Bybee was rewarded by being given a lifetime appointment as a federal appellate judge). The Bush Administration withdrew the memo after public outcry. Steven Bradbury, the former head of Office of Legal Counsel, then secretly authored additional memos in the spring of 2005 that essentially approved the same techniques, including the use of head-slapping and frigid temperatures, according to a 2007 New York Times account. Those memos concluded that the harsh interrogation techniques used by the CIA would not violate Geneva Conventions restrictions on “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment of prisoners.
The suggestion that such a legal memo should be kept concealed shows the continued fears at the CIA of a war crimes charge. These continued squabbles would be put to rest if President Obama would simply fulfill his clear obligation to order an investigation into war crimes committed by the Bush Administration. Brennan is seeking to conceal evidence of criminal acts that should be in the hands of not just the public but a special prosecutor.
Given Brennan’s obstruction, Obama will now have to personally order the release of the information.
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