By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
After years of denials, the CIA has formally acknowledged the existence of two classified documents governing aggressive interrogation and detention policies for terrorism suspects, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
But CIA lawyers say the documents -- memos from President Bush and the Justice Department -- are still so sensitive that no portion can be released to the public.
The disclosures by the CIA general counsel's office came in a letter Friday to attorneys for the ACLU. The group had filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New York two years ago under the Freedom of Information Act, seeking records related to U.S. interrogation and detention policies.
The lawsuit has resulted in the release of more than 100,000 pages of documents, including some that revealed internal debates over the policies governing prisoners held at the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Many other records have not been released and, in some cases, their existence has been revealed only in media reports.
Friday's letter from John L. McPherson, the CIA's associate general counsel, lists two documents that pertain to the ACLU's records request.
The ACLU describes the first as a "directive" signed by Bush governing CIA interrogation methods or allowing the agency to set up detention facilities outside the United States. McPherson describes it as a "memorandum." In September, Bush confirmed the existence of secret CIA prisons and transferred 14 remaining terrorism suspects from them to Guantanamo Bay.
The second document is an August 2002 legal memo from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel to the CIA general counsel. The ACLU describes it as "specifying interrogation methods that the CIA may use against top al-Qaeda members." (This document is separate from another widely publicized Justice memo, also issued in August 2002, that narrowed the definition of torture. The Justice Department has since rescinded the latter.)
The ACLU relied on media reports to identify and describe the two documents, but the CIA and other agencies had not previously confirmed their existence. McPherson wrote that neither document can be released to the public for reasons of security and attorney-client privilege.
"The documents are withheld in their entirety because there is no meaningful non-exempt information that can be reasonably segregated from the exempt information," McPherson wrote. A spokesman for the CIA declined to comment yesterday.
Amrit Singh, one of the ACLU's attorneys on the case, said the disclosures may make it easier for the group to argue in favor of releasing the documents.
"For more than three years, they've refused to even confirm or deny the existence of these records," Singh said, referring to the group's initial document request in October 2003. "The fact that they're now choosing to do so confirms that their position was unjustified from the start. . . . Now we can begin to actually litigate the release of these documents."