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Holder: No Torture Memo "Hide And Seek"

Attorney General Eric Holder interviewed by Katie Couric from the Justice Department.
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Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress on Thursday he won't play "hide and seek" with secret memos about harsh interrogations of terror suspects and their effectiveness.

In testimony before the House Appropriations Committee, Holder said he's willing to release as much information as possible about the interrogations.

Several members of the committee pressed him about the Justice Department's release last week of four long-secret legal memos detailing the harsh techniques used on some detainees during the Bush administration.

"It is certainly the intention of this administration not to play hide and seek, or not to release certain things," said Holder. "It is not our intention to try to advance a political agenda or to try to hide things from the American people."

Republicans - including former Vice President Dick Cheney - have urged the Obama administration to release other, still-secret documents detailing what intelligence was gained from the controversial interrogation techniques.

"I think you have an obligation to release the rest of the memos," said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va.

Still, Jane Mayer, the author of an award-winning book about the CIA's anti-terrorist program, says Americans should weigh what the interrogators did against what they found out.

"Even if you got some information, was it worth it?" she said, speaking to CBS News Radio's Dan Raviv. "We know that pictures of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo became recruiting tools for Al Qaeda. They enraged the Muslim world and made them hate us."

Holder said he wasn't sure exactly which memos Cheney was referring to, because he hasn't seen them. The attorney general suggested such classified documents may exist at other agencies.

"I'm the attorney general and I don't control many of the memos you might be talking about," said Holder.

When the Obama administration released the memos last week, the president declared no CIA operatives who followed the memos' instructions would be prosecuted. The administration has not offered the same assurances to the memo authors or the Bush officials who oversaw the program.

Congressional Democrats have expressed a strong desire to conduct their own investigation of those officials.

At Thursday's hearing, members of both parties asked Holder if he plans to seek charges against those officials.

"I will not permit the criminalization of policy differences. However, it is my responsibility as attorney general to enforce the law. It is my duty to enforce the law. If I see evidence of wrongdoing I will pursue it to the full extent of the law," Holder said.

Officials are still awaiting the results of an internal Justice Department investigation into the actions of the memo-writers.

Separately Thursday, a Tunisian man detained after the Sept. 11 attacks filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming he was tortured at CIA-operated secret prisons in Afghanistan months before a Justice Department memo sanctioned the practices.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Newark, is believed to be the first to allege acts of torture were committed before the secret Aug. 1, 2002, memo that approved waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods. The memo was declassified last week.

"It's impossible to claim that people who perpetrated torture relied on memos that didn't exist," said Josh Denbeaux, a northern New Jersey attorney who represents plaintiff Rafiq Alhami`.

According to the lawsuit, Alhami was arrested in Iran in November 2001 and taken to Afghanistan to three CIA "dark sites" where "his presence and his existence were unknown to everyone except his United States detainers" and his name was not included on any publicly available list of detainees.

Beginning in December 2001, Alhami was tortured repeatedly, the lawsuit claims.

The methods were varied: At different times Alhami was stripped naked, threatened with dogs, shackled in painful "stress" positions for hours, punched, kicked and exposed to extremes of heat and cold. The suit also alleges Alhami's interrogators sprayed pepper spray on his hemorrhoids, causing extreme pain.

The lawsuit doesn't claim Alhami was waterboarded, a technique that simulates drowning.

The torture continued after Alhami was transferred to the U.S. Naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in January 2003, where he currently is held, according to the suit.

The Justice Department didn't immediately return a message seeking comment Thursday.

Alhami has denied being a member of a terrorist group, and claims he was arrested based on information provided to the Iranian government by an Iranian citizen seeking a bounty.

According to the lawsuit, sometime within the last 18 months Alhami was convicted in absentia in Tunisia for violating that country's Patriot Act, despite the act being passed in 2003, two years after he was detained by the U.S.

The suit seeks damages of $10 million and targets dozens of named and unnamed defendants, including former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Navy Rear Adm. Mark Buzby, former commander of the detention center at Guantanamo.

Denbeaux said the allegations in the lawsuit were pieced together from Alhami's recollections, declassified documents and information from human rights organizations.