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CIA warns judge over release of torture info

DIRECTOR of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, Leon Panetta, told a US federal judge on Monday that releasing documents about the CIA's terror interrogations would gravely damage national security.

Panetta sent a 24-page missive to New York federal judge Alvin Hellerstein, arguing that the release of agency cables describing tough interrogation methods used on al-Qaida suspects would tell the enemy far too much about US counter-terrorism work.

The CIA director filed the papers in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. The suit has already led to the unveiling of Bush administration's legal memos authorizing harsh methods - among them water-boarding, a type of simulated drowning, and slamming suspects into walls - and a fight over releasing long-secret photos of abused detainees.

"I have determined that the disclosure of intelligence about al-Qaida reasonably 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," Panetta wrote.

Panetta acknowledges in the court papers that the CIA destroyed 92 videotapes of detainee interrogations that took place in 2002. Officials have previously said that a dozen of those tapes showed the so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques," which critics call torture. The destruction of the videotapes has spurred a criminal investigation into why they were destroyed.

The tapes - and the interrogations - are also an issue in the ACLU's lawsuit.

The CIA last month denied a request by former Vice President Dick Cheney to declassify secret memos that detail whether valuable intelligence was gained from the use of the harsh interrogation techniques. Cheney said the documents show that the tactics prevented terrorist attacks and saved lives.

President Barack Obama also said last month he would try to block the court-ordered release of photos showing US troops interrogating prisoners, reversing his position out of concern the pictures would "further inflame anti-American opinion" and endanger US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.


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