ACLU Demands Eavesdropping, Torture Memos From White House

By David KravetsThe American Civil Liberties Union is hoping a kinder, gentler Obama administration will disclose secret documents detailing the legal basis for the previous administration’s rationale for supporting torture and warrantless surveillance.

The memos are being sought from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, the White House’s legal adviser. The Bush administration had refused the ACLU‘s bid to obtain the documents via a Freedom of Information Act request.

But last week, President Barack Obama announced his administration would roll back the secrecy that surrounded the Bush Administration, and called on government agencies to err on the side of openness and release information whenever possible.

“Releasing the memos would allow the public to better understand the legal basis for the Bush administration’s national security policies; to better understand the role that the OLC played in developing, justifying and advocating those policies; and to participate more meaningfully in the ongoing debate about national security, civil liberties and human rights,” the ACLU wrote the Office of Legal Counsel on Wednesday.

The public disclosure of the documents could spread sunshine on whether Bush administration officials should be held legally accountable for their opinions, including those justifying the form of simulated drowning known as waterboarding. And the request comes as the Obama administration heads to court to respond to a civil lawsuit brought by Jose Padilla, who was suspected of plotting to set off a “dirty bomb.”

Dawn Johnsen, Obama’s choice to head the OLC, wrote in Slate last year that such documentation should be released to the public.

The ProPublica website lists a host of secret Bush administration legal opinions justifying the Bush administration’s positions on detainee treatment and warrantless surveillance adopted in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

The Justice Department was not immediately prepared to comment.