CIA Censors Cry Uncle After Declassified Posting

Call it a victory for sunshine in government. Or perhaps it's just an effort to avoid looking silly.

But two days after the CIA—in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit—blacked-out portions of an already public letter about faulty Iraq War claims, the agency today unredacted the supposedly supersensitive paragraph and exposed it to the light of day.

The agency's change of heart came after Declassified reported that the CIA—as part of a FOIA case by the ACLU—had turned over a censored copy of a letter sent nearly three years ago from three members of Congress asking pointed questions about one of the CIA's most controversial high-value detainees, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. He's the detainee who was originally used by the Bush administration to make inflammatory claims about Saddam Hussein's ties to Al Qaeda—but who then recanted his story, asserting that he had made the whole thing up to avoid being tortured. (He was later turned over to his native Libya and was reported to have killed himself last year in a prison cell.)

The agency had blacked out a crucial paragraph that asked such questions as "Where is al-Libi today?" even though the entire letter has been publicly accessible since 2007 on the Web site of one of the congressmen who sent it, Democratic Rep. Ed Markey.

On Thursday afternoon, less than 48 hours after the overzealous censorship was pointed out by Declassified, a Justice Department lawyer representing the CIA in the lawsuit filed a new set of documents in the case "intended to replace" the one on Tuesday.

"As you will see, it contains fewer redactions," wrote the prosecutor, Tara La Morte. The fewer redactions included most conspicuously the full text of the letter, including the previously blacked-out paragraph asking about al-Libi's whereabouts.

"Of course, we are pleased they are no longer redacting previously released information," said Alexander Abdo, a lawyer for the ACLU.

To read the whole letter, here's the link from Markey's Web site.

The redacted—and now unredacted—paragraph is the one on the last page.