Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Obama refuses to declassify torture report

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, along with many human rights and transparency advocates have been pressing President Obama for some time to declassify the unabridged version of the Senate Intelligence Committee torture report.
 

The Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program as it is called is nearly 7,000 pages. The report was approved on December 13, 2012 by a vote of nine to six, with seven Democrats, one Independent and one Republican voting in favor of publication and six Republicans voting against.
Instead of declassifying the report or having it declared an official record of one of the agencies that has a copy, Obama has decided to place the report in his official presidential records. The records will be subject to public requests only after 12 years in 2029 which could then trigger a declassification process. Obama passed up options to declassify large swathes of the document. Far from being open and more transparent about the subject Obama has ensured that the public cannot learn the details of the torture program for more than a decade. A letter to Dianne Feinstein was sent by White House Counsel Neil Eggleston outlining Obama's decision. Eggleston wrote: "I write to notify you that the full Study will be preserved under the Presidential Records Act. The determination that the Study will be preserved under the PRA has no bearing on copies of the Study currently stored at various agencies. ... At this time, we are not pursuing declassification of the full Study."
Feinman reacted by reiterating her belief that the report should be declassified but was pleased that the report would go into Obama's archives and would not be subject to destruction. She also noted that one day it would be available for declassification. Feinstein was chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee that produced the report. The move does prevent incoming president Trump from destroying the document. Given Trump's statements approving torture, he along with a number of Republicans might favor destruction of the report. However, Trump is also at odds with the intelligence community, does not trust them or attend briefings, and is angry at their presentation of evidence of Russian intervention in the U.S. election. Perhaps Trump might actually want to preserve the report, change his tune on torture, and use the report against the intelligence community or as a defense against any attempt to attack him by the intelligence community. However, given his views on torture, Trump appears unlikely to declassify the report as he could if he wished.
An executive summary of the report was released back in 2014, but the Obama administration fought against a Freedom of Information lawsuit that requested release of the full report. The administration argued that it was a congressional record, and not a record of the executive branch. Courts accepted that argument.
The executive summary is about 500 pages but is heavily redacted. The entire report cost about $40 million to prepare. The report shows that the program failed on the whole to produce anything useful and it also shows that the CIA lied about the program. The current chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican Senator Richard Burr far from wanting the full report declassified, would like to see the report destroyed.
Burr claims that the report is a Congressional Record not a federal one. He wants all copies to be returned. People in the executive branch are being told not to read it and not to enter it as a federal record. This keeps it away from Freedom Of Information Act Requests. Obama's move prevents Burr from destroying every single copy even if he manages to get them back. The CIA has somehow managed to destroy its only copy of the report, as indicated on the appended video.
Obama has refused to move ahead to declassify the report and the letter indicates there are no attempts at declassification at this time. Perhaps, Obama has a soft spot for incoming president Trump and does not wish to embarrass him by making public information that torture does not work.


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