Erasing History: Trump Administration Returning CIA Torture Report To Be Destroyed

from the awful dept

Over the last few months, a battle has played out over what will happen to the 6,700 page "CIA Torture Report" that the Senate Intelligence Committee spent many years and approximately $40 million producing. The report apparently reveals all sorts of terrible details about how the CIA tortured people for little benefit (and great harm in other ways) and lied to Congress about it. While a heavily redacted executive summary was released, there is apparently significantly more in the full report. And if we, as a country, are to actually come to terms with what our nation did, this report should be made public and there should be a public discussion on our past failings.

Instead, it looks like the report is going to be returned and destroyed. Senator Richard Burr has been against the report from the beginning, and ever since he took over the Senate Intelligence Committee he's demanded that the administration return the report, arguing (totally against all evidence) that it was a work product of the Senate Intelligence Committee not meant for distribution to the executive branch. Of course, that's the exact opposite of what Senator Dianne Feinstein -- who spearheaded the effort to create the report -- has said. The intention was to understand what the CIA did and make sure the same mistakes were not repeated. And, in fact, Feinstein asked the executive branch agencies to put the document into their own records -- which would make the report subject to a FOIA request.

The previous administration did not give the report back to Burr, but did block those in the executive branch from reading it or from putting it into their records -- which has so far stymied FOIA requests. And now, the Trump administration has started returning the report to Burr to destroy:

The Trump administration has begun returning copies of a voluminous 2014 Senate report about the Central Intelligence Agency’s detention and interrogation program to Congress, complying with the demand of a top Republican senator who has criticized the report for being shoddy and excessively critical of the C.I.A.

The Trump administration’s move, described by multiple congressional officials, raises the possibility that copies of the 6,700-page report could be locked in Senate vaults for good — exempt from laws requiring that government records eventually become public. The C.I.A., the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the C.I.A.’s inspector general have returned their copies of the report, the officials said.

This is problematic on many, many levels. Feinstein had even asked Obama to declassify the report, before leaving office -- something he refused to do. Feinstein is not at all happy about this turn of events.

“I’m concerned and disappointed that Chairman Burr demanded the return of copies of the classified edition of the torture report. The fact that he would take this divisive action without notifying or consulting with the Democrats on the committee is a departure from the bipartisan nature of this committee. It’s particularly troubling he would take this divisive action while the committee is conducting its Russian investigation.

“The committee voted in March 2009 to initiate a report on harsh interrogation techniques used by the CIA on detainees during the Bush administration. After almost four years of hard work, the committee approved the report in December 2012. The CIA was afforded the opportunity to respond and where appropriate, changes were made and the CIA’s responses were included in the footnotes. The committee then voted to declassify and release the executive summary and the findings and conclusions in December 2014.

“Chairman Burr’s assertion that he, today, has authority over a final Senate report completed prior to him assuming the chairmanship is both alarming and concerning. This creates a dangerous precedent that a current chairman could question acts of previous congresses and countless historical reports and records and essentially nullify reports produced by a prior congress under a different chairman.

“No senator—chairman or not—has the authority to erase history. I believe that is the intent of the chairman in this case.

“I’m profoundly disappointed that CIA Director Pompeo would approve this action. Members, including myself, carefully questioned him during his confirmation process about his views on torture. He clearly stated his opposition to torture and made a commitment to read the full classified report. I very much doubt that he has had an opportunity to fulfill that commitment.

“The report is an important tool to help educate our intelligence agencies about a dark chapter of our nation’s history. Without copies of it, the lessons we’ve learned will be forgotten. The intelligence agencies have a moral, if not legal, obligation to retain every copy of this report for posterity.”

Senator Ron Wyden put out an even stronger statement:

“Attempts to erase history are the tactics of the insecure and the power hungry and have no place in a democracy. The torture report is a historical record that belongs to all Americans,” Wyden said. “This unprecedented move by Chairman Burr and the Trump administration could serve only one purpose -- to pave the way for the kind of falsehoods used to justify an illegal and dangerous torture program. For the sake of future generations of Americans, this report should be immediately returned to the government agencies who gave it up, disseminated widely within the government and most importantly, declassified for the American people.”

Assuming Burr gets back his copies and does, in fact, destroy them, there are still two possible other copies out there. The Trump administration (unlike the Obama administration) did, in fact, give a copy to the courts as was ordered by the judge in a case about the torture program. The other copy was apparently "preserved" in the Obama archives, where it will be kept for 12 years before it might be declassified. At this point that copy is, perhaps, the only chance that this detailed report won't be completely deleted from history.

Of course, the other possibility... is that someone along the way who had access to the report has kept a copy of it and decides to leak the report to the press. This would be doing a true service to history and help preventing future shameful episodes involving torture. Hopefully someone out there with access to the report -- and a conscience -- does the right thing.

Filed Under: cia, dianne feinstetin, donald trump, history, richard burr, ron wyden, torture report

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