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The So-Called Cheney Documents

6:00 PM, Aug 25, 2009 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Late yesterday afternoon, the CIA public affairs office sent reporters an email with two documents attached. CIA spokesman George Little wrote: "For your information, the attached files are part of today's document release on the CIA interrogation program. Former Vice President Cheney asked that these documents be released earlier this year."

Those documents offer detailed evidence of the effectiveness of detainee interrogation, including the use of enhanced interrogation techniques. So most news accounts have concluded that these are, in fact, the so-called Cheney documents. But that's only half right.

One document, entitled "Khalid Shaykh Muhammad: Preeminent Source on al Qaida," is the precise document Cheney requested. The other, entitled, "Detainee Reporting Pivotal for the War Against al Qaeda," is not. The document declassified and released by the CIA is dated June 3, 2003. The version of the document requested by Cheney was dated June 1, 2003.

Are there substantive differences, too? One intelligence source with knowledge of the memos says that the second report, the June 3 document releasing by the CIA, does not include the same level of detail as the June 1 document, the one requested by Cheney. So what aren't we seeing? It's hard to say. The explanation could be simple and innocent. Perhaps someone just conveyed the wrong request and the differences between the two versions of the "pivotal" report are not significant. But given that the purpose of the document is to describe the effectiveness of the interrogations, it's also possible that information supporting Cheney's position -- and contradicting that of the Obama administration -- was not released to the public.

So will the most transparent administration in history release the June 1 version that Cheney requested?

Adding to the intrigue is the timing of the release. On May 7, the CIA's Delores Nelson wrote to Cheney to deny his initial request to have the two documents declassified. Cheney appealed on June 8. On July 30, the CIA once again denied Cheney's request for declassification. The letter, also from Delores Nelson, reads, in relevant part:

"The Agency Release Panel (ARP) considered your appeals and determined that the material denied in its entirety must continue to be protected from release on the basis of section 3.5A3 of the order as the information information remains the subject of pending litigation. Therefore, in accordance with Agency regulations, the ARP denied your appeals in full."

Cheney received the CIA's denial letter from his Washington office yesterday -- the same day the so-called Cheney memos were released.

So in the period of three weeks, the CIA denied Cheney's request for declassification of the material and the Obama administration, with the approval of the CIA, declassified one of the Cheney memos and a less-detailed version of the other.

What's the deal? I have contacted George Little at the CIA for a comment, but have not yet received a response. TWS also contacted Susan Cooper, director of public affairs at the National Archives, the institution that conveyed Cheney's declassification request to the CIA. Cooper has not yet responded either. We will post responses when we get them.

The irony, of course, is that while the Cheney documents demonstrate the effectiveness of EITs, they were not necessary to make that point. The CIA's IG report, written by John Helgerson, who was plainly opposed to the use of EITs and considered them "torture," made that case, too.