President Barack Obama has promised that a long-awaited report on torture during the war on terror will be made public. He has yet to keep that pledge, and the latest signs are discouraging.
The CIA and the White House blacked out significant portions of the report before returning it to the Senate Intelligence Committee this month. In response, the committee’s chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, sent Obama a letter laying out changes she wants to redactions that she says “eliminate or obscure key facts that support the report’s findings and conclusions.” She says she won’t release the report until she’s satisfied.
Civil liberties groups, which have criticized Feinstein on surveillance and privacy issues, are now lionizing her for leading an epic battle with the CIA and Obama. That may be an overstatement, but she is absolutely correct on the basic point: “The United States must never again make the mistakes documented in this report” – and one important way to guarantee that is for the unvarnished truth to finally come out.
As it is, the vast majority of the 6,600-page report will never be made public. What could be declassified is only the 480-page executive summary, plus findings and conclusions.
James Clapper, director of national intelligence, says the blacked-out version gives the public a “full view” of the committee’s report while protecting sensitive information.
No one wants to reveal information that could damage national security, but we also don’t want the CIA to be able to whitewash its history.
And there’s ample reason to be skeptical of CIA assurances theses days. According to those who have seen its conclusions, the report found that the CIA misled Congress and the public about the effectiveness of the harsh interrogation methods. Its own inspector general just confirmed that agency employees improperly monitored computers being used by Intelligence Committee staffers working on the report – which CIA Director John Brennan initially denied.
Feinstein had properly urged the president to have the White House – not the CIA – lead the declassification process. Unfortunately, he ignored her advice.
The same day the heavily redacted report was sent to the Intelligence Committee, Obama made matters worse with a strangely flippant remark about the brutal interrogations that he rightly condemned and banned his first day as president. “In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we did some things that were wrong,” he told reporters. “We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks.”
Between rounds of golf while vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard this week, he ought to give some serious thought about how he can help the nation remove the stain of torture. Releasing a real report would be a good start.