WASHINGTON – A leading US rights group expressed concern Wednesday that President Barack Obama may not publicly release memos from the previous administration authorizing harsh interrogation of detainees.
"Withholding this information would be completely inconsistent with the Obama administration's promise of transparency and its commitment to turn the page on the abuses of the last eight years," said Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union.
A federal court has given the government until Thursday to either turn over the memos in response to a freedom of information act lawsuit brought by the ACLU, or explain whey they cannot be released.
The memos were authored by Jay Bybee and Steven Bradbury, who at the time were lawyers for the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.
The memos provided the legal framework for a program of interrogations of "war on terror" detainees that included techniques widely regarded as torture such as waterboarding, in which a detainee is made to feel like he is drowning.
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that an intense debate is underway within the new administration over whether to release the memos, and that it is leaning toward keeping secret some graphic details of the tactics used by the CIA.
The report said Attorney General Eric Holder and others in the Justice Department have argued aggressively in favor of release, but the CIA has countered that disclosure of such secrets would undermine its credibility and effectiveness.
Jaffer argued that full disclosure was "vital to the historical record and to informing the public about what actions were carried out in its name."
"The release of the memos is also crucial to hold officials accountable for authorizing torture," he said.
The day after taking office, Obama ordered the closing of the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba within a year and the immediate cessation of the special interrogation regime used by the CIA.
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