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

from the transparency dept

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

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[citation needed or GTFO] says:

Is there such at thing?

An intellectually honest federal government is willing to openly discuss dissenting viewpoints.

There’s been so many stories and articles about government corruption that I’m wondering if an “intellectually honest federal government” even exists in this day and age.

If I’m wrong, feel free to correct me. 🙂

PRMan (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Is there such at thing?

You can time travel. It’s called reading books.

I’ve read The Life of Abraham Lincoln and the government was FAR more corrupt leading up to the Civil War than it is now.

Reading about Andrew Jackson showed me that there was a lot of corruption back then as well, but similar to the amount now.

Reading The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin shows the beginnings of government, collecting taxes for libraries, street lamps and street sweeping.

[citation needed or GTFO] says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Is there such at thing?

In other words, an “intellectually honest federal government” has never existed and will never exist.

I’d say that’s not exactly a comforting thought, but it’d be foolhardy to believe that conflict will eventually phase out of human nature.

Lord Binky says:

Times haven't changed as much as some think.....

It’s not like this was released with ease and officials said, We’re sorry for what happened, but it’s different now. *displays evidence* It hasn’t changed, they just got better at hiding it. The transparency we have at present is like letting someone search my room freely, while knowing they won’t look INSIDE the mattress where I hid all my stuff I didn’t want to be found.

Anonymous Coward says:

The default state of every government document...

…should be “published to the world”. (Note that I’m talking about documents here, not data. My tax return, your social security account, and J. Random User’s Medicaid statement are data, not documents.)

By “every” I mean everything: everything in the White House. Everything in Congress. Everything in the CIA, the DoE, the EPA, EVERYTHING. (Cue Gary Oldman)

Exceptions to this should only be granted after review by an independent board of citizens — NONE of whom can hold any political office, ALL of whom will be selected at random from registered voters once a year. Officials must appear before the board and make the case for secrecy; all such petitions, if granted, will stipulate an expiration date, and if an extension isn’t granted, those documents will become public on that date. Exceptions will be rate-limited, e.g., so many documents/year/department.

No doubt officials would howl in protest if this became law. Too bad: anyone who can’t conduct the people’s business in full view of the people is unworthy to be a public servant.

Phil H (user link) says:

intellectually honest

You mentioned an intellectually honest federal government. Isn’t that a contradiction in terms? We all know what happened with the “WMD” as well as your mention above with regard to CIA interrogation techniques. The US gov’t and really all gov’ts do what they see is in their best interest (their, being the individuals running it) which means job protection (for themselves) and making money (for themselves). There is no honesty involved when it comes to greed and power. It is an addictive drug for politicians, just as any other drug.

Anonymous Coward says:


Awww, some terrorists that wanted to kill us got roughed up a little. Excuse me if I don’t lose any sleep over it. You think they wouldn’t slit your throat given half a chance? Wake up sheeple, the world is not the friendly hippie commune you wish it to be. Half the world wants the US dead, because we are the, strongest, richest, and most influential in the World. For them to replace us and insert their 14 century laws, they have to kill us. Don’t agree with me? Then you are an idiot; history and facts are on my side.

weneedhelp (profile) says:

Re: Torture

“Awww, some terrorists that wanted to kill us got roughed up a little.” – You know nothing. Wholesale roundup of brown ppl and torture them. No different than closing down a mall and take the ppl there and torture them. Might there be a terrorist there? Bullshit.

“Half the world wants the US dead, because we are the, strongest, richest, and most influential in the World.” – Again you know shit. They hate us because we fuck with their countries and put in place puppet dictators then give them the means to commit genocide on their own ppl.

We sponsor terrorists when it suits us and then demonize them when they get tired of us meddling with their countries and turn on us. alCIAda ring a bell?

“history and facts are on my side.” – Yes history and “facts” as told by Fox “news.”

YOU are the idiot, history and facts are not on your side at all.

weneedhelp (profile) says:

Re: Torture

Osama bin Laden, a wealthy man, left Saudi Arabia in 1979 to join American-sponsored so-called freedom fighters in Afghanistan. He received financial assistance, weapons and training from our CIA, just as his allies in Kosovo continue to receive the same from us today.

It is during this time that bin Laden learned to practice terror ? tragically, with money from the US taxpayers. But it wasn?t until 1991, during what we refer to as the Persian Gulf War, that he turned fully against the United States. It was this war, said to protect our oil, that brought out the worst in him

Chargone (profile) says:

Re: Torture

problem being, of course, it’s not just terrorists.

it’s also any randoms who get grabed in the process of ‘security theater’ so they appear to be doing Something, it’s also randoms the government decides are embarrassing…

thing is, if you allow it for some specific group or sub group, it doesn’t take long for those at the top to find a way of defining ANYONE as belonging to one of those groups when convenient.

better to avoid it all together.

(mind you, i do happen to agree there are circumstances where even torture may be appropriate, but they’re incredibly rare and the people likely to find themselves in such situations are NOT the people I’d trust to make that judgment call.)

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