While not entirely unexpected, it's good to see that the Senate Intelligence Committee has finally voted to declassify the key parts of the massive 6,300 page report on the CIA's torture program
. As we've been discussing
for months, this report, which cost $40 million and has been progressing for years, has been the subject of a pretty big fight from the CIA. It was expected that the Intelligence Committee would approve declassifying the executive summary -- which itself runs 480 pages -- along with "20 findings and conclusions" from the report. It seemed clear that the Democrats on the committee would support declassification (and President Obama has supported it as well), though it was unclear if Republicans would. Yesterday, we noted that Republican Senator Susan Collins announced her support for declassification
, while also directly calling the CIA's program "torture," -- something that others on the committee have been afraid
What's a bit surprising is that the vote wasn't even close: 11 to 3 in favor of declassifying the report, and even the highest ranking Republican, Saxby Chambliss voted in favor of declassification, though he did so under what appears to be a bit of a protest. His statement about the vote certainly sounds like sour grapes, rather than strong support:
"Today, I voted in favor of sending a portion of this majority report to the executive branch for declassification. Despite the report’s significant errors, omissions, and assumptions—as well as a lot of cherry-picking of the facts—I want the American people to be able to see it and judge for themselves. In addition, this study has been an expensive, partisan distraction that has hindered the committee’s ability to provide oversight of current national security issues, including NSA reforms, cybersecurity, Russia, Syria, and Afghanistan. I hope we can put this behind us and focus on the national security challenges at hand.
While I agree with some of the conclusions in this report, I take strong exception to the notion that the CIA’s detention and interrogation program did not provide intelligence that was helpful in disrupting terrorist attacks or tracking down Usama bin Ladin. This claim contradicts the factual record and is just flat wrong. Intelligence was gained from detainees in the program, both before and after the application of enhanced interrogation techniques, which played an important role in disrupting terrorist plots and aided our overall counterterrorism operations over the past decade."
Another Republican on the committee, Tom Coburn also called it torture, though he insisted that the CIA did it in "good faith" and voted "present" rather than in favor of declassification.
“I agree that some of the more extreme Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs) could be considered torture, and that in the future this country should not rely on such techniques. Yet, at the time, they had legal sanction. Readers of the report will make their own judgments about how they were implemented. I believe that the CIA acted imperfectly, but in good faith and under great urgency to prevent an attack from a little understood enemy that had brought devastation to our shores."
Feinstein was willing to call it "a stain on our history that must never again be allowed to happen" but refused to call it torture.
Of course, the "fight" is not over yet. There will certainly be a fight over how the declassification is handled and the public won't see the report for many, many months. Senator Mark Udall, who has been a big critic of the intelligence community for a while, has asked that the CIA not handle the declassification itself, knowing that it will over-classify:
"Following today’s historic vote, the president faces what I believe should be a straightforward question. He can defer declassification decisions to the CIA — which has demonstrated an inability to face the truth about this program — or pass this authority to the Director of National Intelligence or hold on to the redaction pen himself. The president needs to understand that the CIA’s clear conflict of interest here requires that the White House step in and manage this process."
Of course, throughout the past few weeks, more and more details of what's in the report have been leaked to the press (including some more leaks today, which we'll try to write about shortly)...