The administration's decision may have marked a new phase of what has been described as a pitched battle between the Department of Justice and the Central Intelligence Agency.
It has been reported that Attorney General Eric Holder, head of the DOJ, was in favor of full disclosure, but that senior career CIA officials under the agency's new director, Leon Panetta, argued that disclosure would compromise national security and damage morale at the spy agency.
At the same time, Panetta said that CIA operatives who performed waterboarding and other illegal interrogation techniques would not be prosecuted because they believed they were acting under the legal authority of the President of the United States, based on memoranda prepared by the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel.
The inter-agency controversy reportedly began in the waning days of the administration of President George W. Bush, when then-CIA Director Michael Hayden reportedly became incensed over the possible disclosure of the memos.
Some observers have speculated that some of these senior CIA officials were themselves deeply involved in the management of the interrogation programs and that they are trying to shield themselves from possible prosecution.
CIA Deputy Director Steven Kappes is one of the officials often mentioned as needing protection.
Hayden brought Kappes back to the number two position at the CIA in 2006, two years after the legendary clandestine operative resigned following a confrontation with Patrick Murray, chief of staff to then-Director Porter J. Goss. Kappes's top deputy, Michael Sulick, also resigned, as did others who were unhappy with the new Goss team.
These resignations reportedly triggered an exodus of seasoned case officers.
Kappes's top priority when he rejoined the agency was to help rebuild the CIA's human intelligence capabilities.
When President Barack Obama appointed Panetta to head the CIA, Kappes remained as the agency's second in command. Press reports have asserted that Kappes was personally involved in the CIA's harsh interrogation programs, and also that he fears that disclosure of the secret memoranda will fuel another exodus of experienced CIA operatives.
The CIA still faces at least one other difficult decision - whether to release the tightly held reports by the CIA inspector general on torture and rendition. Disclosure of the reports will add fuel to the debate over whether Bush administration officials should be investigated for their role in the implementing the torture regime.