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ACLU Presses Obama to Release OLC Memos — and Other Evidence of Potentially Illegal Conduct

Buoyed by President Obama’s executive orders and presidential memoranda renouncing excessive government secrecy last week, advocates are pushing the new

Thomas Dixon
Last updated: Jul 31, 2020 | Jan 28, 2009

Buoyed by President Obama’s executive orders and presidential memoranda renouncing excessive government secrecy last week, advocates are pushing the new administration hard to live up to those promises.

The ACLU today sent a letter to David Barron, the acting assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel, requesting the OLC release a host of legal memos that the Bush administration had withheld, justifying policies on interrogation, detention and rendition of detainees, as well as warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens.

The ACLU has filed three separate lawsuits seeking release of the information, but “most of the key OLC memos are still being withheld in their entirety,” write Jameel Jaffer, Amrit Singh and Melissa Goodman of the ACLU.

Dawn Johnsen, Obama’s nominee to head the OLC, has written in favor of releasing the memos.

In a footnote to its letter, the ACLU notes that Obama has effectively rescinded all memos issued by the OLC between Sept. 11, 2001 and Jan. 20, 2009 insofar as they relate to interrogation.  But while those memos are no longer effective, they are key to finding out who may have authorized illegal techniques under the Bush administration — and to potential future prosecutions.

Although, as Spencer just wrote, Attorney General-nominee Eric Holder appears to have promised Republicans he will not prosecute former Bush officials, the more evidence of illegal conduct that gets aired in the public — and these FOIA cases are key to that — the more difficult that position might be to maintain.

The ACLU letter comes after several other actions this week that put a spotlight on Obama’s early commitments.

As I wrote today, Rep. John Conyers’ (D-Mich.) decision to re-issue a subpoena to former Bush aide and adviser Karl Rove has landed that ball in Obama’s court:  Will Obama support the Bush administration’s claim that former executive advisers have “absolute immunity” from testifying before Congress? That would certainly seem to contradict Obama’s stance last week, not to mention the law, as laid out eloquently in an opinion by Judge John Bates of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. (See my earlier post.)

ACLU lawyers are hopeful, and with good reason; they’ve gotten much of what they’ve asked for from the new administration.

“We had three Day One requests – on Guantanamo, rendition and torture,” Jameel Jaffer told me today. “So far, we’re very pleased.”

Thomas Dixon | He creates the ideal marketing experience by connecting online brands with their target audiences. He recently completed a research paper on consumer conversion and took part in a community project on SEO optimization. Thomas is working on his Bachelor of Arts in Communications and plans to intern in an online marketing department soon.


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