Senators Slam White House For CIA Torture Report Redactions That Make It 'Incomprehensible'

from the just-release-it dept

The fight over the redactions of the CIA’s torture report continue. Last week, Senator Dianne Feinstein noted that she and her staff were somewhat taken aback by the amount of redacted information when they received back the black ink-drenched copy of the executive summary to the $40 million, 6,300 page “devastating” report on the CIA’s torture program prepared by the Senate Intelligence Committee. In response, James Clapper shot back that the redactions were “minimal” and over 85% of the document was free from black ink (it’s not clear if he was counting the margins as well…).

Of course, as Marcy Wheeler has pointed out, this is just about the executive summary of the report — which was specifically written to be published. In other words, the really “secret” stuff is in the rest of the report, but the 408 page exec summary was written with public disclosure in mind — meaning that the Senate Intelligence Committee staffers certainly wrote it with the expectation that it would need few, if any, redactions. So the fact that large chunks of it were redacted immediately set off some alarms.

On Tuesday, multiple Senators on the Intelligence Committee spoke out angrily about the redactions. It kicked off with Feinstein who noted that the review her staff went through of the redactions shows that the censors are trying to hide information that should be public:

?After further review of the redacted version of the executive summary, I have concluded the redactions eliminate or obscure key facts that support the report?s findings and conclusions. Until these redactions are addressed to the committee?s satisfaction, the report will not be made public.

?I am sending a letter today to the president laying out a series of changes to the redactions that we believe are necessary prior to public release. The White House and the intelligence community have committed to working through these changes in good faith. This process will take some time, and the report will not be released until I am satisfied that all redactions are appropriate.

?The bottom line is that the United States must never again make the mistakes documented in this report. I believe the best way to accomplish that is to make public our thorough documentary history of the CIA?s program. That is why I believe taking our time and getting it right is so important, and I will not rush this process.?

Senator Carl Levin then came out with a much more strongly worded condemnation of the redactions suggesting that they were clearly designed to hide embarrassing information, which is not a legitimate reason for redactions:

?The redactions that CIA has proposed to the Intelligence Committee?s report on CIA interrogations are totally unacceptable. Classification should be used to protect sources and methods or the disclosure of information which could compromise national security, not to avoid disclosure of improper acts or embarrassing information. But in reviewing the CIA-proposed redactions, I saw multiple instances where CIA proposes to redact information that has already been publicly disclosed in the Senate Armed Services Committee report on detainee abuse that was reviewed by the administration and authorized for release in 2009. The White House needs to take hold of this process and ensure that all information that should be declassified is declassified.?

Senator Mark Udall issued a statement in which he notes that the “strategic” redactions are used to distort the nature of what’s in the report:

“While Director Clapper may be technically correct that the document has been 85 percent declassified, it is also true that strategically placed redactions can make a narrative incomprehensible and can certainly make it more difficult to understand the basis for the findings and conclusions reached in the report. I agree wholeheartedly that redactions are necessary to protect intelligence sources and methods, but the White House must work closely with this committee to reach this goal in a way that makes it possible for the public to understand what happened.

“I am committed to working with Chairman Feinstein to declassify the Senate Intelligence Committee’s study to the fullest extent possible, correct the record on the CIA’s brutal and ineffective detention and interrogation program, and ensure the CIA learns from its past mistakes. And in light of the importance of the work the Senate Intelligence Committee has undertaken, I believe that the chairman should take all necessary time to ensure that the redactions to the executive summary are appropriate ? not merely made to cover up acts that could embarrass the agency.

“The CIA should not face its past with a redaction pen, and the White House must not allow it to do so.”

All three of those Senators are well aware of what’s in the report, and it appears they recognize that the black ink was being used not to protect national security or “sources and methods” but rather to hide or distort the facts of the CIA’s torture program.

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Comments on “Senators Slam White House For CIA Torture Report Redactions That Make It 'Incomprehensible'”

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35 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

‘I have concluded the redactions eliminate or obscure key facts that support the report’s findings and conclusions’

Which was the entire point of the redactions, to undermine the findings and make them easy to dismiss, by redacting and removing any supporting evidence for them.

‘The White House and the intelligence community have committed to working through these changes in good faith.

Yeah, I’m sure, and if she honestly believes that, I’ve got some lunar real-estate she might be interested in purchasing.

Neither the WH nor the CIA will ever let the truly damning stuff see the light of day if they can at all help it, the only way it will ever go public is if someone either leaks the report and/or summery, or if one of the senators has the bravery to put it into the public records directly.

pixelpusher220 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I took this ” Until these redactions are addressed to the committee’s satisfaction, the report will not be made public.”

As, no, please don’t throw us (CIA) in that briar patch!

Sadly the required response should have been “Unless this resolved to our satisfaction by [date] we’ll release it in it’s unredacted entirety”

beech says:

Re: Re: Re:

I heartily agree. The Senate is rewarding the cia with some more of that sweet sweet stalling. Now they get to take a few months to try again, then send it to the Whitehouse for another couple weeks. It’s time to draw a hard line. “You have one week to put a sensibly redacted copy of this report on my desk or I will release the whole damn thing.”

The cia is just trying to stonewall until any media that happens to be interested in this report moves on to other things and forgets.

Anonymous Coward says:

but yesterday, Clapper was saying what a good report it was. therefore the way to go is to get Clapper in front of everyone and order him to read out loud the whole report, while someone else sits there and actually writes down all he says! he probably wont complete even the first sentence, maybe not even the title of the report or first heading. that will give an opening for the questioning to begin!
as for the Whitehouse, the conduct is deplorable! it is acting more like a military Juncter than a democratically elected administration. there may well be certain things that need to be kept close to chest but something like this needs to come out in the open! as for those in charge of the CIA when the torturing was taking place, they need to be brought up on charges! no one should be treated like that and it doesn’t justify it just because ‘the other side does it’!!

TasMot (profile) says:

This Make Me Ashamed of the US Government

The very fact that this report is needed makes me ashamed of the US Government. The fact that they are trying to use “national security” concerns to hide their shameful acts is horrific. The fact that torture was ever even considered is too terrible to contemplate.
Now, those responsible are hiding behind the “gallons of black ink” of redactions under the veil of “national security” to hide from the public the shameful acts that were done in our name.

THE HIGH COURT IS NOW IN SESSION AND WE ALL FIND OURSELVES INNOCENT. COURT ADJOURNED.

I hope it is so easy if I am ever in court.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Until these redactions are addressed to the committee’s satisfaction, the report will not be made public.”

That isn’t how you get people who want to keep this from the public to fix an issue. Maybe change that to “This report is going out fully unredacted in 1 month unless the White House can submit an acceptably redacted version.” How fast do you think the White House would react then?

ottermaton (profile) says:

What's Feinstein up to?

Until these redactions are addressed to the committee’s satisfaction, the report will not be made public.

What purpose does holding them back serve? None that I can see.

Even if you believe Feinstein is genuine about wanting to get this info out (which, given her track record, I don’t), wouldn’t it be illustrative to see the before and after versions, to see exactly what they were trying to hide?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What's Feinstein up to?

I think she is playing the game of chicken. She is mentioning thorough, taking time, good faith etc.
She is covering her flanks and she is making White House and CIA aware that even if they do not comply the first time, she will keep going. She is not making a grand stannding for the public. She is communicating with the White House and CIA, making them know that they will need a new tactic. Maybe she is giving them some level of stall, but eventually the pressure will mount.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What's Feinstein up to?

What purpose does holding them back serve? None that I can see.

It actually works out perfectly for Feinstein and the CIA (and of course, the WH):

The CIA over-censors the summary, Feinstein gets to “fight” them, and they will eventually give in and withdraw some of the trivial redactions. The Senator gets to look like she fought for transparency against the intelligence community, and Brennan and the CIA look like they’re operating under the control of robust, effective oversight.

And, as many others have mentioned, senators like Udall and Wyden aren’t given a sufficiently strong foothold in public opinion to justify reading the whole unredacted summary/report into the record.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

The plan is succeeding

“Until these redactions are addressed to the committee’s satisfaction, the report will not be made public.”

So, the CIA will be punished for too much redacting by giving them exactly what they wanted in the first place: the suppression of the entire report?

That sounds like a plan. A really, really stupid plan.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is nothing but stage show and you should have known that the moment Obama turned this document over to the CIA for redaction. The moment that happened it was a foregone conclusion of what would happen to this document, that’s not an if and not a maybe.

The CIA has fought releasing this every step of the way, only to have control over it before it is released to the public merely tells you its’ another stonewall in an attempt for Obama and company to get out of office before it is revealed, if it ever is. This is not about transparency and it never was. It’s about stage show with an election coming up.

If this was serious in this gamemanship, the Senate Intelligence Committee would have set a date to have this redone with the threat if it was not the committee and not a single member alone, would release the whole thing unredacted. Everyone is playing political games on this one.

Eldakka (profile) says:

Re: LIES!

If they didn’t redact spaces it would be easy to reconstruct the document. There are already statistical analysis algorithms that can be run if the length of redacted words is known, as the set of words of that length is (usually) known (i.e. get all words of that length from the English dictionary), and then the known words surrounding it can be analysed to produce what are the only semantically and syntactically possible words (or even phrases) that can be substituted in their place. Therefore when redacting, it’s best to redact entire sentences and long phrases, including the spaces, to better obfuscate what could be put there.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Well if the roles were reversed, and the Senate was put in charge of redactions dealing with corruption and illegal actions by the Senate, I’m sure they’d be completely impartial and only remove the really sensitive stuff*, so obviously they were just giving the CIA the benefit of the doubt, and assuming they’d be similarly honest.

/s

*Just he minor stuff, like names, dates, what laws are being bent/broken, the fact that the report is about the Senate in the first place…

beltorak (profile) says:

if they were serious about exposing the crimes of those in power, they would release the redacted report and send it back for round 2, with the threat that a public reading of the unredacted summary will begin tomorrow at 8 AM. If they don’t want the *whole* thing read into congressional record, they’d better hurry up.

I’m seriously disappointed that we won’t get to see this version, so when the “less” redacted version comes out later we can all know exactly what they wanted to hide. Any chance the summary will be published with annotations on the original redactions? That would be fascinating, I’m sure.

Somebody please leak this.

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