CIA Resists Disclosure of Records on Detention
WASHINGTON - The Central Intelligence Agency is refusing to make public hundreds of pages of internal documents about the agency's defunct detention and interrogation program, saying such disclosures would jeopardize national security by revealing classified intelligence sources and operations.
The C.I.A.'s argument to withhold the material, laid out Monday in a declaration to a federal court in New York, comes a week after the Obama administration declassified documents about abuses in the C.I.A.'s secret overseas prisons and the Justice Department began investigating the actions of C.I.A. operatives.
Among the documents the agency is trying to keep classified are President George W. Bush's September 2001 authorization for the C.I.A. to begin secretly holding terrorism suspects; cables between C.I.A. officers in the secret prisons, known as black sites, and their bosses in Washington; and assessments by C.I.A. lawyers about the legality of the detention program.
The C.I.A.'s 33-page court declaration, made public on Tuesday, said that releasing C.I.A. interrogation procedures "is reasonably likely to degrade the U.S.G.'s ability to effectively question terrorist detainees and elicit information necessary to protect the American people." (The abbreviation "U.S.G." refers to the United States government.)
"These interrogation methods are integral to the U.S.G.'s interrogation program" and are therefore considered top secret, said the C.I.A. declaration, written by Wendy M. Hilton, an officer in the agency's clandestine service who reviews documents for public release.
President Obama signed an executive order on Jan. 22 banning the harsh interrogation methods used by the C.I.A. during the Bush administration. The procedures, called "enhanced interrogation techniques" by the C.I.A., included waterboarding and "wall slamming."
Paul Gimigliano, a C.I.A. spokesman, said that the reference in Ms. Hilton's declaration was to questions that were asked of detainees "and the procedures used to ask them, not to enhanced interrogation techniques, which are no longer employed."
Lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the government in 2003 for release of the detention documents, said the C.I.A.'s declaration undercut the Obama administration's pledges of greater transparency.
"There's really no distance at all between this declaration and the declarations the C.I.A. was filing during the Bush administration," said Jameel Jaffer, an A.C.L.U. lawyer.
Mr. Jaffer said the A.C.L.U. would petition the judge in the case, Alvin K. Hellerstein of Federal District Court, to get the documents declassified.
Last week, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. appointed a federal prosecutor to investigate abuses enumerated in a 2004 report by the C.I.A.'s inspector general, including a number of cases involving the deaths of detainees in C.I.A. custody.
The decision brought a stinging rebuke from some Republicans, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, who contended that the abuse cases had already been investigated and that Mr. Holder had appointed a prosecutor to placate liberals.
"It's clearly a political move," said Mr. Cheney, appearing on "Fox News Sunday." "I mean, there's no other rationale for why they're doing this."
The C.I.A. declaration is similar to a court filing in June by Leon E. Panetta, the agency's director. For months, Mr. Panetta had been urging the Obama administration not to reveal classified operational details about the program, and in July he sent the C.I.A.'s top lawyer to the Justice Department to try to persuade Mr. Holder's aides not to begin a criminal investigation into the detention program.
Although Mr. Obama banned the C.I.A. interrogation methods and Mr. Panetta later ordered that the secret prisons be closed, the agency has sought to protect some still-classified aspects of the program, including the exact locations of the prisons and the help that the C.I.A. received from foreign spy services.
According to the C.I.A. declaration, the agency put these classified details into a top secret program "to enhance protection from unauthorized disclosure."