Amid fierce controversy stirred up over the use of harsh interrogation techniques, the Central Intelligence Agency moves to warn against the disclosure of classified documents on the issue.
In a 24-page missive to New York federal judge Alvin Hellerstein, CIA Director Leon Panetta said releasing the agency’s cables would tell “our enemies of what we knew about them, and when, and in some instances, how we obtained the intelligence.”
“I have determined that the disclosure of intelligence about al Qaeda reasonably could be expected to result in exceptionally grave damage to the national security,” Panetta wrote in the letter on Monday.
The CIA official’s warning came in reaction to a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has already uncovered Bush administration legal memos authorizing tough techniques, including waterboarding (simulated drowning) and slamming suspects into walls.
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Panetta acknowledged in the court papers that the CIA destroyed 92 videotapes of interrogations conducted in 2002. The elimination of the videotapes — also among the issues cited in the ACLU’s lawsuit — has raised calls for a criminal investigation into why they were destroyed.
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The CIA has been making every effort to avoid the release of the documents, including dozens of agency cables.
Panetta says the cables describe in full detail the methods used on detainees, the elicited information and what US officials still did not know at the time the suspects were being questioned.
Earlier in May, the agency turned down a request by former vice president Dick Cheney to declassify secret memos which show whether the controversial harsh interrogation techniques yielded valuable intelligence.
Cheney — in an attempt to repel sharp criticism hurled at the administration of former president George W. Bush for its ‘war on terror’ and national security policies — claimed that the documents will prove that the tactics used forestalled terrorist activities and saved lives.
The ACLU’s complaint has also called for the declassification of long-secret photos of abused detainees during the US-led war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
However, the Obama administration citing concerns that the pictures would “further inflame anti-American opinion” and endanger US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan has announced a decision to block a court order for the release of the photos.