By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 1, 2008
The Justice Department yesterday agreed to grant lawmakers limited access to secret memos that authorized CIA interrogation strategies, an offer that Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) immediately criticized as "certainly too late . . . and too little, as well."
Bowing to intense pressure from congressional Democrats, senior Justice officials said they soon will release unredacted versions of memos drafted by staff members in the department's Office of Legal Counsel. Several of the controversial memos have been repudiated while others remain under fire from critics who say they encourage torture and civil liberties abuses.
Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse called the move an "extraordinary accommodation" to help members of the intelligence committees understand the Bush administration's legal reasoning on "vital" national security policies.
But Feingold, who presided over a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday on excessive government secrecy, said that access to the memos comes with strings attached that will make it difficult for lawmakers to conduct a thorough review.
Under the terms of the arrangement, for instance, the members will not be allowed to keep paper or electronic copies of the documents.
"We have had the most god-awful fight getting these opinions," added Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). "There's an absolute stone wall being thrown up around this stuff."
Testifying as a representative for the Justice Department, current OLC deputy John P. Elwood said lawmakers had been briefed all along on surveillance and detainee interrogation policies. He said that speeding up the release of memos will be a priority in the months ahead.