The Obama administration threw open the curtain on years of Bush-era secrets Monday, revealing anti-terror memos that claimed exceptional search-and-seizure powers and divulging that the CIA destroyed nearly 100 videotapes of interrogations and other treatment of terror suspects.
The Justice Department released nine legal opinions showing that, following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Bush administration determined that certain constitutional rights would not apply during the coming fight. Within two weeks, government lawyers were already discussing ways to wiretap U.S. conversations without warrants.
The Bush administration eventually abandoned many of the legal conclusions, but the documents themselves had been closely held. By releasing them, President Barack Obama continued a house-cleaning of the previous administration’s most contentious policies.
“Too often over the past decade, the fight against terrorism has been viewed as a zero-sum battle with our civil liberties,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a speech a few hours before the documents were released. “Not only is that school of thought misguided, I fear that in actuality it does more harm than good.”
The Obama administration also acknowledged in court documents Monday that the CIA destroyed 92 videos involving terror suspects, including interrogations — far more than had been known. Congressional Democrats and other critics have charged that some of the harsh interrogation techniques amounted to torture, a contention President George W. Bush and other Bush officials rejected.
The new administration pledged on Monday to begin turning over documents related to the videos to a federal judge and to make as much information public as possible.
The legal memos written by the Bush administration’s Office of Legal Counsel show a government grappling with how to wage war on terrorism in a fast-changing world. The conclusion, reiterated in page after page of documents, was that the president had broad authority to set aside constitutional rights.