Senators Say Secrecy Impedes Oversight of Torture Policy

08.20.08 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Updated below

By resisting congressional requests for documents, the Bush Administration has effectively diminished Congress’s oversight power, as the review of government policy is often replaced by lengthy contests over access to records.

In the final six months of the current Administration, for example, the Senate Judiciary Committee still finds itself unable to gain access to influential records of the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) relating to interrogation, detention and torture.

“After more than five years of requests, we have only recently received access to redacted versions of OLC legal opinions related to the CIA’s interrogation program,” wrote Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) on August 19.

“The failure to provide other documents that we have sought repeatedly, however, leaves us without basic facts that are essential to this Committee’s ability to conduct its oversight responsibilities.”

“I have been stonewalled even in my repeated request for something as simple as an index of OLC opinions,” wrote Sen. Leahy.

The Administration has not asserted executive privilege in this area, and national security classification is not a barrier to the cleared Committee staff. The requested documents have simply not been provided.

In a letter to White House Counsel Fred Fielding, Senators Leahy and Specter asked Mr. Fielding to turn over ten specified legal memoranda and other OLC documents on detention and interrogation policies.

The Senators set a deadline of Friday, August 29 at 10 AM for delivery of the requested documents. They did not indicate how they might respond if the documents are not received.

Update and clarification: The Department of Justice has provided copies of all OLC opinions dealing with CIA interrogation policy to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The dispute between the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Justice Department reflects in part a disagreement over jurisdictional boundaries between the two Committees.