Obama defended the CIA after its operatives surreptitiously spied on the emails and work product of the Senate's lead investigator, Daniel Jones. (photo: ZU/Rex/Shutterstock)
Senate Torture Report to Be Kept From Public for 12 Years After Obama Decision
By Spencer Ackerman, Guardian UK
16 December 16
Obama’s agreement to preserve investigation into CIA’s use of torture after 9/11 means classified document will remain restricted under Presidential Records Act
Barack Obama has agreed to preserve the Senate’s landmark investigation into the CIA’s use of torture after 9/11, but his decision ensures that the document remains out of public view for at least 12 years and probably longer.
Obama’s decision, revealed in a letter from White House counsel W Neil Eggleston, prevents Republican Richard Burr, the Senate intelligence committee chairman who has been highly critical of the investigation, from destroying existing classified copies of the December 2014 report.
Daniel Jones, a former committee staffer who led the torture inquiry, criticized the preservation as inadequate.
“The bar for positive White House action on this is incredibly low. Preserving the full 6,700-page report under the Presidential Records Act only ensures the report will not be destroyed,” Jones said. “It does little else.”
The full Senate torture report, which documented brutality by the CIA against at least 119 detained terrorism suspects, will be held out of public view at Obama’s presidential library.
Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California, Burr’s predecessor as chair and now the vice-chair of the Senate intelligence committee, said on Monday she was “pleased” Obama had placed the inquiry she spearheaded into his presidential record. Feinstein noted the document would “one day be available for declassification”.
But that day, according to secrecy and intelligence experts, is a long way off.
Eggleston wrote to Feinstein on Friday that the classified version of the report, over 6,700 pages in length, will remain restricted under a legal provision, the Presidential Records Act, for 12 years.
“At this time, we are not pursuing declassification,” Eggleston wrote.
Under the act, the Senate torture report will be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act for a full 12 years. But expiration of the provision afterward does not mean that disclosure will necessarily follow.
“CIA or other agencies may contend that all or some of the classified information in the report is still classified 12 years from now,” said Steven Aftergood, an intelligence policy expert at the Federation of American Scientists. After 12 years, a declassification review of the torture report can proceed, “but the review may conclude that the information in it should remain classified”, Aftergood noted.
Through an investigation that lasted more than six years, the Senate intelligence committee found that the CIA’s torture was far more brutal than the agency had told the Bush administration or Congress, and that the agency had lied about the program’s contours and effectiveness. It found unequivocally that torture produced no valuable counter-terrorism intelligence. President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed a desire to make the CIA engage in torture once again.
Obama came to the aid of the CIA in its dramatic battle with its Senate overseers. The president defended the agency after its operatives surreptitiously spied on the emails and work product of the Senate’s lead investigator, Jones. Through the chief of staff, Denis McDonough, Obama’s White House fought for months throughout 2014 to ensure that the vast majority of the Senate report remained classified and out of public view.
“The administration can, and should, be doing much more,” Jones said.
“They have ignored requests from senators and others to declassify the full report. Worse, while the full 6,700-page classified report was delivered to the CIA, [office of the director of national intelligence], state, FBI, DOJ and DOD; we’re told individuals with the appropriate security clearances at these agencies have not been able to read the report and learn from the mistakes documented. It’s dumbfounding. The administration’s lack of support – and inaction – continues to be incredibly disappointing.”
Despite Obama’s decision, Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat on the intelligence committee and an advocate of the report, pledged to build “a bipartisan coalition” starting next month to declassify the report as a measure to check Trump’s pro-torture impulses.
“The American people deserve the opportunity to read this history rather than see it locked away in a safe for twelve years. When the president-elect has promised to bring back torture, it is also more critical than ever that the study be made available to cleared personnel throughout the federal government who are responsible for authorizing and implementing our country’s detention and interrogation policies,” Wyden said.
Wyden urged Obama to designate the torture report an agency record, which makes it releasable under the Freedom of Information Act, adding: “Burying the study achieves nothing but to create an information vacuum that gets filled with uninformed and highly dangerous propaganda.”
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