Late last week, Sens. Diane Feinstein and Jay Rockefeller wrote an Op-Ed in the Washington Post calling for the 6,300+ page Senate report on the CIA’s Bush-era torture and interrogation program to be released to the public:
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence voted 11 to 3 last Thursday to declassify and make public the executive summary and the findings and conclusions of its report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.
Those documents have been sent to the president for declassification.
We believe that public release is the best way to ensure that this program of secret detention and coercive interrogation never happens again. It will also serve to uphold America’s practice of admitting wrongdoing and learning from its mistakes.
It’s hard for me to pin down just when “admitting wrongdoing and learning from mistakes” was a “practice” in American government, but I digress. Ever since the completion of this report, its authors in the Senate intelligence committee have urged its release. But after Feinstein went to the Senate floor last month to accuse the CIA of illegally trying to stonewall the investigation and block its release, Feinstein seemed to have changed her mind. Now the demand is not to have all 6,300+ pages released to the public, but to have approximately 500 pages of an executive summary submitted for declassification review. As Spencer Ackerman at the Guardian reported:
As a Senate committee moves to declassify a landmark report about the Central Intelligence Agency’s descent into torture, among the only certainties is that the public won’t see the vast majority of it.
The Senate select committee on intelligence has waged an unprecedented and acrimonious public battle with the CIA over a secret 6,300-page investigation concluding torture was an ineffective intelligence-gathering technique and that the CIA lied about its value. On Thursday, the committee is slated to take a belated vote to make it public.
Or more precisely, it will vote to make a slice public. And the CIA will have a significant degree of influence over how large and how public that slice will be.
The committee is not going to release the 6,300-page report. Its chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein of California, said on the Senate floor three weeks ago that only the “findings, conclusions and the executive summary of the report” were the subject of the committee’s declassification efforts. The vast majority of the Senate report – effectively, an alternative post-9/11 history detailing of years’ worth of CIA torture and cover-up – will remain shielded from public view.
Clearly, Feinstein and the rest of the Senate committee are the target of incredible pressure from the CIA and the White House to hem in their demands for public release. It’s also important to keep in mind that what will ultimately be released in this executive summary is still up to the CIA and the White House, given that they conduct the declassification review at their discretion. Don’t be surprised if even the fraction of the report up for declassification comes out heavily redacted.
Some of the classified details have been reported, though, and it ain’t pretty for the CIA. To take one example, McClatchy reported not only that the CIA went beyond the Justice Department’s own guidelines for permissible interrogation techniques, but that the CIA deliberately misled the DOJ, Congress, and the media in order to shield themselves from the law.
This obviously raise questions about what exactly is going to continue to be hidden from the public. What details of the brutal torture program are too dark for us to know? What ancillary activities included in the rest of the report are too shocking and felonious for public release?
To what extent is this whole “declassification” process an open admission that criminal activities within the intelligence community are allowed to be kept secret in order to shield said community from legal accountability or public ire? The CIA’s main excuse for opposing declassification has been to claim the report contains factual errors and misleading judgments. But Feinstein, in her Senate testimony, said that an internal CIA review came to the same conclusion and made the same judgements about the torture program.
“How can the CIA’s official response to our study stand factually in conflict with its own internal review?” Feinstein asked. Good question. It can’t. And this is why the whole process is a thinly veiled attempt to maintain impunity for government criminals.