The Justice Department needs a week to complete its review of a 2004 CIA inspector general's report before releasing it in redacted form to civil liberties advocates, officials said yesterday.
Government lawyers notified the American Civil Liberties Union of the delay yesterday afternoon, citing a longer-than-expected review process at the CIA. Activists requested the report as part of a longstanding Freedom of Information Act lawsuit focusing on the U.S. government's detention and treatment of terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
CIA officials sought to redact many sensitive and classified elements of the lengthy report, including details about the use of waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other harsh measures against detainees. The report by the agency's internal watchdog raised questions about the legality of the CIA's strategy and ignited a fierce debate within the agency and the Bush administration after it was completed five years ago.
Tension over how much to disclose in the fight against terrorism continues to roil the highest levels of the Obama administration. After a behind-the-scenes fight, authorities released earlier this year four memos by the Bush Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel that paved the way for information-gathering techniques that critics assert are torture. But at the urging of Defense Department officials, the White House has sought to bar the release of photos depicting detainee abuse on the ground that they could incite violence against U.S. forces.
The report is the most definitive official account to date of the CIA's interrogation system. A heavily redacted version, consisting of a dozen or so paragraphs separated by heavy black boxes and lists of missing pages, was released in May 2008 in response to the ACLU lawsuit. The broad conclusions of the report, as well as its specific assertion that some interrogators exceeded limits approved by the Justice Department, have been disclosed.
Administration officials have been cool to the idea of a congressionally chartered "truth commission" that would explore the origins and effects of the interrogation program. But they have repeatedly been forced to respond to lawsuits they inherited, filed by interest groups that seek sensitive government documents from the Bush era.
New leaders at the Justice Department generally lean toward disclosure, but they are playing a secondary role in the case of the CIA inspector general's report because they did not have a hand in investigating or preparing the report.
Amrit Singh, an ACLU lawyer, said the group is disappointed by the delay. "We can only hope that this delay is a sign that the forces of transparency within the Obama administration are winning over the forces of secrecy and that the report will ultimately be released with minimal redactions," she said. "The CIA should not be permitted to use national security as a pretext for suppressing evidence of its own unlawful conduct."
CIA spokesman George Little said the process "is working just as it should." He rejected the ACLU's allegations of suppressed evidence as "wrong and offensive."
Staff writer Joby Warrick contributed to this report.