Feds Tried To Destroy All Evidence Of Memo Saying They Were Committing War Crimes With Torture

by Mike Masnick
Apr. 11, 2012

Spencer Ackerman, over at Wired, recently had a fascinating article about how the a former Bush official had written a memo detailing how the CIA had committed war crimes in torturing Al Qaeda suspects, in violation of the Geneva conventions. Wired has the full memo, but here's the first page:

No matter what you think of the US's actions in how it treated prisoners and suspects, what struck me about the story is just how hard the feds worked not to release this document. The guy who wrote the memo, Philip Zelikow, revealed the existence of the memo three years ago in a blog post, leading Ackerman to file a Freedom of Information Act request to uncover it. Later, in a Senate hearing, Zelikow explained how higher ups in the administration had decided "the memo was not considered appropriate for further discussion and that copies of my memo should be collected and destroyed." Of course, what wasn't destroyed was some legally questionable arguments in favor of these "enhanced interrogation techniques."

It turns out, however, at least one copy of Zelikow's letter survived -- but even then it took almost three years from the first FOIA request until it was actually released. This was also years after the memos insisting that the activities were legal were released. For a government that keeps wanting to insist that it's being as transparent as possible, and one where political calculus is not supposed to weigh on decisions like this, it seems pretty clear that the feds were quite careful to try to hide internal reports that argue (persuasively, and with great detail) against its legal theory, but happy to reveal the much more questionable documents that support its position. This is not surprising, but it is disappointing. An intellectually honest federal government is willing to openly discuss dissenting viewpoints.

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