The videotapes, which depicted harsh interrogation tactics, were famously destroyed in 2005. As part of a wide-ranging lawsuit, the ACLU is seeking the release of CIA emails discussing the tapes, handwritten notes taken after reviewing the tapes, and a photograph of one high-value detainee, Abu Zubaydah, among other items relating to the tapes.
CIA director Leon Panetta argued in a statement that releasing the material "could be expected to result in exceptionally grave damage to the national security by informing our enemies of what we knew about them, and when, and in some instances, how we obtained the intelligence we possessed."
Panetta wrote that the "disclosure of explicit details of specific interrogations" would give al-Qaeda "propaganda it could use to recruit and raise funds." He called it "ready-made ammunition."
An ACLU lawyer told the Post that Panetta is in effect arguing: "The greater the abuse, the more important it is that it should remain secret."
This is hardly the first time that the Obama administration has disappointed open-government advocates, especially on issues relating to the war on terror. Last month, the president said he opposed the release of photographs that show harsh interrogation techniques at Abu Ghraib and other military prisons. And the administration has several times invoked the state secrecy privilege to argue for the dismissal of lawsuits on warrantless wiretapping and renditions -- despite the fact that, as a candidate for president, Barack Obama criticized President Bush for invoking the privilege too frequently.
We're going to try to get a read on how this new position taken by the CIA fits into that record, and will let you know what we learn.