Report on CIA’s use of torture is sealed until 2028
The 6,700-page Senate report on harsh interrogation tactics the CIA used on terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks will not be released to the public before President Obama leaves office next month, according to the White House’s top lawyer.
Instead, the so-called “torture report” will be preserved and archived in official presidential records, making it eligible for open records requests and possible declassification no sooner than 2028.
Responding in a letter to lawmakers who had pushed for declassification of the report, White House Counsel Neil Eggleston wrote that Mr. Obama had directed that the full report be preserved under the Presidential Records Act.
“The President has informed the Archivist that access to classified material, among other categories of material, should be restricted for the full 12 years allowed under the act,” Mr. Eggleston wrote to Sen. Dianne Feinstein in a letter circulated Monday. “At this time, we are not pursuing declassification of the full study.”
A roughly 500-page summary of the Senate report, which details how the CIA detained and interrogated terrorism suspects under President George W. Bush, was released publicly in 2014. The report ticked off some of the harshest treatment for 119 detainees held at “black site” locations overseas — including waterboarding, death threats and rectal force-feedings — but it concluded that the CIA repeatedly had misled its overseers about the effectiveness of the program on obtaining intelligence from detainees.
Ms. Feinstein, a California Democrat and Senate intelligence committee chair who led the investigation, has been among the lawmakers seeking assurances before Mr. Obama leaves office that the full report would be preserved and eventually declassified.
“There are those who would like to see this report destroyed, but in the two years since its release, none of the facts in the 450-page summary has been refuted,” Ms. Feinstein said Monday in a statement. “It’s my very strong belief that one day this report should be declassified. The president has refused to do so at this time, but I’m pleased the report will go into his archives as part of his presidential records, will not be subject to destruction and will one day be available for declassification.”
Waterboarding, which involves pouring water over a cloth covering the nose and mouth of a detainee to create the sensation of drowning, was banned by Mr. Obama in 2009.
But the presidential election of Donald Trump has raised questions about whether the controversial technique could make a comeback. Before winning the election, Mr. Trump said he supports reinstating waterboarding and “much worse” methods of torture — though in more recent interviews he appears to have softened that stance as a result of conversations with his nominee for secretary of defense, retired Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis.
Sen. Ron Wyden, who also has called for the report to be declassified, said Mr. Obama’s decision on the report falls short of the transparency the American public deserves, and he pledged to pursue the release of the report through other means.
“When the president-elect has promised to bring back torture, it is also more critical than ever that the study be made available to cleared personnel throughout the federal government who are responsible for authorizing and implementing our country’s detention and interrogation policies,” the Oregon Democrat said.
There is also an unresolved lawsuit challenging the secrecy of the report. The American Civil Liberties Union in November appealed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit over the classification of the report to the U.S. Supreme Court. Lower courts previously dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that the report was a congressional record and therefore not subject to open records requests.
Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project, said the president could have directed agencies in receipt of the report to declare it an official agency record — thereby making it subject to open records requests.
Asked why the administration wants to wait 12 years to declassify the full report, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday that “a substantial portion of the report has already been declassified.”
“I think there is ample information included in that report on this topic that has already been declassified,” Mr. Earnest said, referring to the summary. “We’ve had an opportunity to wage this debate in public on a number of occasions.”
He said the intelligence community will have to review the report before declassification, a process that would likely take a significant amount of time, but that, ultimately, the report would serve an educational purpose.
“The hope is that there will be an opportunity for the American public to consider the findings of the report and learn some lessons about what kind of steps we want to take as a country to protect ourselves,” Mr. Earnest said.